Redistricting 101: ‘Cracking’ and ‘packing’
When it comes to political gerrymandering, the most nefarious schemes rely on one of two strategies: They either crack apart key constituencies or pack them together to dilute their influence.
“Cracking” and “packing,” in short, are key tools in a typical gerrymander. They are the clearest indication of just how much the district boundary lines themselves can influence subsequent elections.
This year, both Democrats and Republicans have used those tactics to generate maps they hope will help them win seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
For example, in Oregon, Democrats cracked apart the city of Portland. Those voters, among the most liberal in the nation, are spread between three districts, which snake south, east and west from the heart of the city in a way that creates three solidly Democratic districts.
In Tennessee, Republicans have proposed cracking Nashville for a different purpose: They want to divide Democratic votes between several districts that they have a great chance of winning.
North Carolina Republicans used the other strategy, packing voters in Charlotte into one district. That likely means Democrats will dominate that district — but Republicans will have a better shot at winning several of the surrounding districts.
When it comes to the decennial redistricting process, keep an eye out for districts that overwhelmingly favor one party, a packed district, or districts that divide natural constituencies between neighboring seats, a cracked constituency. It’s the most common way politicians have to choose their voters — rather than letting the voters choose their politicians.