We’ve all heard about redistricting and that it’s taking place now in the legislature. We understand what gerrymandering is and how it resembles a salamander winding through grabbing ideal voters in branched-off locations. But what many people may not know is that the main strategies are “packing” and “cracking.” Packing is where voters of one party are packed into a single district to limit their seats and, therefore, their broad political influence. In much of America, and especially the South, we have racially-polarized voting habits where African Americans largely vote for Democratic candidates and Caucasians largely vote for Republican candidates. Cracking is used to limit the influence of voters of one party/race classification by dividing them up to where they are only a minority over multiple districts. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 addresses this issue and still applies today to the redistricting process. The recent Alabama Supreme Court case struck down districts based on this law.
In Louisiana, this is already the hot issue, and it especially applies to the proposed State Senate districts in SWLA. In this quadrant of the state consisting of eight parishes, you can see the effect where none of the five State Senate districts are held by a Democratic or black elected official. There are also 13 House districts where a Democratic or black legislator holds only one seat. This in no way reflects the political and ethnic make-up of the people in this area.
I know District 27 well because I recently competed for the vacated State Senate seat. Of all the State Senate districts in SWLA, District 27 is the most obvious to set up fairly. This is because most Democratic and black voters in SWLA are concentrated in Lake Charles and surrounding areas. This district was already cracked to a degree, and now the proposed districts agreed to by Senators Stine and Abraham appear to crack the district even further in Senate Bill 1 (SB1), the likely bill to be passed since Republicans have the supermajority in the State Senate. Precincts near McNeese and Hwy 14 have been cracked off while the district was expanded into the far reaches west of Carlyss.
This is unfortunate because there have been many proposed maps they could have used showing 27 could have been easily drawn to be more competitive with a 50/50 Democratic and Republican partisan makeup. Voters deserve to have a chance for their political candidates to be compelled to compete with the best ideas instead of only being challenged by one party. We can all agree that competition is good. When you block competition in this way, it leaves many people feeling disenfranchised, a common theme of many black residents who testified at the legislative redistricting roadshows over the last few months. It also leads to voter apathy, lower participation, and more extreme candidates since they are only compelled to compete with one party. In the 2019 legislative elections, more than 31% of the seats statewide in Louisiana went unchallenged. This is the ultimate goal of gerrymandering.
The adage “don’t hate the player, hate the game” applies here because the process is flawed by letting legislators create their own districts. It goes against human nature to draw yourself into more competition. I plead with our Legislators not to choose a path that will likely lead Louisiana into costly court battles. Unfortunately, the only check to their power is letters like this, which will likely be soon forgotten. I am asking our local Senators to do the right thing and draw lines that will let us compete. Otherwise, voters in SWLA will be disenfranchised for yet another decade.
Please call and/or email your State Senator and let them know what you think about SB1. The above was originally published in today’s Lake Charles American Press.
Senator Jeremy Stine
Senator Mark Abraham
Your VOICE matters and can make a difference.
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