High court has chance to reject gerrymandering


MY, HOW TIME flies when we are having redistricting fun.

Just look at the calendar — it’s 2017, and another U.S. Census is just three years down the road. And that means Wisconsin will have another chance to redraw its electoral maps for congressional and statehouse districts.

That’s probably a good thing, because the fight over the last redistricting, done after the 2010 Census, is still working its way through the courts — and has finally reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Wisconsin case poses, for the first time, the question of whether “packing” and “cracking” voters into districts for purely partisan advantage violates the U.S. Constitution.

“Packing” is the term for lumping as many voters who have historically favored one political party into a district in order to keep those voters from influencing the results in a neighboring area that might be more competitive.

“Cracking” is drawing the lines of a district to spread voters who favor one party over a wide area to lessen their influence.

Both techniques are used by political parties as they draw gerrymandered maps with the sole intent of maximizing their chances to gain seats and political power.

It’s not new — both Democrats and Republicans here in Wisconsin, and elsewhere, have drawn the political maps to try to win as many districts as possible for decades. The objective being to control Congress and state legislatures when they have been in the majority and have wielded the redistricting stick.

It’s about power — political power: Keeping control of statehouses and congressional districts, making them less competitive and taking away the rights of voters to decide whom they want to represent them.

In the last electoral redraw — the one that is being taken up by the Supreme Court — Republicans discarded the historic district lines in Racine and Kenosha counties and lumped the cities of Racine and Kenosha into the same state Senate district, creating one “safe” Democrat-leaning district while lessening the impact of the voters here to influence or win seats in two districts.

Over the years, the Supreme Court has taken up numerous cases over race-based redistricting — the most recent, just last week in North Carolina — where it rejected the packing of two congressional districts with predominantly black voters in order to minimize their votes in other districts.

But the high court had been reluctant to take on the issue of purely partisan redistricting until it agreed to consider whether the Wisconsin Assembly district map violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment; it was drawn to neutralize the votes of Democrats, depriving them of representation.

Over the years, political parties have gotten better and better at gerrymandering to their advantage, thanks to better voter data information and computer technologies that allow better mapping.

And they have gotten bolder about their power-grabbing designs. A recent Chicago Tribune article noted that in the North Carolina dispute, 30 percent of the state’s voters are registered Republicans, but the party holds 10 of the state’s 13 congressional seats. As GOP lawmakers drew up their maps, one was quoted as saying the goal should be to stack 10 districts to favor Republicans “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

We would hope the Supreme Court takes the Wisconsin case as an opportunity to reject the idea that politicians can — or should — use redistricting for their own partisan political gain by choosing their voters and instead affirm the idea that it is the voters who should choose the people it wants to represent them.

The criteria for electoral map-making should be communities of interest, geographical proximity, existing political boundaries, social and economic connections — and not the tortured, byzantine, stretched shapes and disconnected areas that politicians have created to grasp political advantage. — The Journal Times of Racine, June 3

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