The Alaska Redistricting Board will start redrawing Southeast Alaska’s legislative districts on Monday. In a ruling issued late Thursday afternoon, the Alaska Supreme Court ordered that the board’s amended redistricting plan be used for the 2012 elections, with the exception of Southeast. The board has to redraw the lines for the region by Tuesday. Matt Lichtenstein reports:
The Court required that the board redraw the four Southeast house districts in compliance with the Alaska constitution, rather than focusing on the federal Voting Rights Act.
The board originally included a native-influence district for Southeast to comply with the act. Now, Executive Director Taylor Bickford says the board must redraw the region with only state constitutional requirements in mind.
“Initially the board had drawn Southeast with the voting rights act in mind also and recent developments at the federal level and amongst the voting rights act community has been that we do not need to draw an influence district in Southeast. And so what the court has said is in light of that development, we need to look at Southeast and draw it without any voting rights act considerations,” Bickford says.
The Supreme Court ruled that the new plan should not be altered based on the federal voting rights act because, “There is no Voting Rights Act justification for deviating from Alaska constitutional requirements in Southeast Alaska.”
Even without focusing on the voting rights act, Bickford expects there will still be Southeast districts with a strong native presence because there’s a strong native presence in southeast. But he says it’s too early to tell what changes the board will make.
“The Bottom line is, we have to redraw southeast with the Alaska constitutional requirements of compactness, contiguity, and relative socioeconomic integration. And so we’ve got all the public comments from various individuals and communities in Southeast, but the board’s main objective is going to be to draw a plan that complies with the constitution,” Bickford says.
This will be the third version of the plan. A legal challenge by two Fairbanks area residents this spring resulted in an Alaska Supreme Court ruling that the Boards original plan was out of compliance with the state constitution. The Justices told the board at that time it had to rewrite the plan so that it first complied with state law and only then, “make revisions that deviate from the Alaska Constitution when deviation is the only means available to satisfy Voting Rights Act requirements.”
The board adopted a revision that changed election district boundaries for parts of the Aleutians and the Interior, as well as areas around Nome and Bethel. It made no changes to its original plan for Southeast. Upon subsequent review, a superior court judge found the amended plan did not comply with the Supreme Court order. The redistricting board filed an appeal, which is still pending.
This latest ruling is the result of the Board’s request to use its original map as an interim plan just for the upcoming fall elections. The Supreme Court instead ordered that the amended plan be used, provided the board revises the Southeast lines.
The decision was great news for Petersburg officials. It’s the only Southeast community that’s challenging the redistricting plan, which puts the small fishing town in a new district with Juneau.
Steve Giesbrecht is Petersburg’s City Manager says, “We felt that Petersburg better matched the demographics and the focus of communities like Wrangell and Sitka more so than Juneau and that’s based on our economy and the type of induistries that we have that make up our communities.”
The Redistricting board is slated to work on the Southeast Districts Monday morning. According to the court order, the revision is due by noon Tuesday.