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“Packing” refers to the strategic manipulation of electoral district boundaries to concentrate as many voters of one party as possible into a single district.

The goal of this tactic is to dilute the voting power of a specific demographic or political group, effectively “wasting” their votes in lopsided elections and minimizing their impact across multiple districts.

While the party in control of redistricting can secure an easy win in the packed district, the primary advantage is in making the surrounding districts safer for their candidates by reducing the concentration of opposition voters.

Unlike “cracking,” which disperses voters of one group across multiple districts, “packing” aims to concentrate them into a single district.

More on “Packing”

In drawing House seats for partisan advantage, a gerrymandering form of vote dilution in which a minority group is over-concentrated in a small number of districts, thus confining its voting strength to those districts.

Packing can happen when, say, the African American population is concentrated into one district where it makes up 90 percent of the district, instead of spread across two districts where it could be roughly half of each district. Former representative Martin Frost of Texas called it a strategy “to convince some southern black leaders to create a handful of new packed black districts and thus bleach the surrounding districts, making them Republican.”

Frost has firsthand experience being on the business end of House district packing. A former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman and House Democratic Caucus chair, among other roles, Frost’s twenty-six-year House career ended after the 2004 elections when state Republicans—at the behest of GOP House majority leader Tom DeLay—redrew the lines. Frost was among a wave of white Texas Democrats washed out that cycle, with the state congressional delegation flipping from 17 to 15 Democratic to 21 to 11 Republican. Lost amid the hubbub of Republican gains was the fact that the state’s minority members—African American and Hispanic, were made considerably safer in their own districts for years to come.

After the 2012 elections, Democrats saw a more broadly nefarious plan to pack their members into a smaller amount of districts to maintain the GOP’s hold on the House it had won in the 2010 midterm elections. Though Republican congressional candidates received nearly 1.4 million fewer votes than Democratic candidates in November 2012, the Republicans lost only eight seats, allowing them to preserve a thirty-three-seat edge in the House.

Gerrymandering, and particularly packing, had played a big role in this. In Pennsylvania, Democratic candidates took 51 per-cent of the vote across the state’s eighteen districts, but only five of the seats. Similar imbalances occurred in Ohio, Michigan, and, to a lesser extent, North Carolina.

From Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes © 2014 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Use of “Packing” in a sentence

  • Critics argue that the recent redistricting plan is a classic case of packing, isolating urban Democratic voters into a few districts while ensuring suburban and rural areas remain solidly Republican.
  • The Supreme Court is hesitant to weigh in on political questions like gerrymandering, but the egregious packing in some states is causing renewed calls for judicial intervention.
  • Analysts point out that while packing might offer short-term electoral gains, it can backfire by creating “safe” districts that foster ideological extremism, as candidates only have to appeal to their base.