Local News

Federal approval not expected to delay Petersburg borough

A federally-required approval of the Petersburg borough should be finished by the time the election results are certified by the state, if voters approve the new borough government.

That’s the latest message from Jim Brennan, the attorney for the borough petitioners. Brennan said Thursday he received a call from the Department of Justice this week that federal pre-clearance approval should be completed by the end of the month.

“Based upon the initial results after December 18, if those are indicative that the measure’s gonna pass, which of course none of us know at this point, but if that’s what they indicate then the department of Justice is prepared to go ahead and expeditiously evaluate the pre-clearance thing for which they’ve already been provided all the information and what I was told is they would expect to be able to get back to us by the holidays as they put it, I took to mean by Christmas. Again if those initial results make it look like the measure is carrying,” Brennan said.

Pre-clearance is required under federal law for Alaska and several other states to ensure new voting plans and boundaries do not discriminate against minorities. The federal agency’s civil rights division notified the state last month that it would be waiting until after the Petersburg borough vote to do that review. Brennan initially thought that could have meant a delay of several months and notes it’s a change from past practice.

“You know I’ve been involved in borough formations before and up until now pre-clearance by the department of justice meant exactly what it sounds like,” Brennan said, adding, “they determine in advance of an election whether or not its going to fly in terms of the requirements of the federal voting rights act and we just got the word, in fact we didn’t get it until late November, about a week ago that they on the basis of a new regulation were now going to wait the election results before they even began evaluating it, that being a 60 day, up to a 60-day process. So we were understandably concerned that that was unnecessarily delaying the process and we certainly preferred that the voters know in advance of voting on this thing or at least the results, whether or not the federal government was going to have a problem with it.”

Brennan sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking for a quicker review and calls it a good result that officials are willing to have the review done sooner.
Borough voting is underway through December 18th with a mail-out ballot administered by the state’s Division of Elections. In-person voting is available in city council chambers through the 18th. Unofficial election results should be available on the 18th and the target date for certifying the election results is January 3rd.

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