A sense of relief was palpable on Sunday afternoon as the Alaska Redistricting Board adopted a revised voting district map, potentially ending the board’s seven-month saga of drawing and redrawing the state’s voter districts. The map in place, used in the 2012 elections, was found to be unconstitutional by the courts. Alaska’s voting districts are redrawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census, but the board was forced to go back to the drawing board after its last attempt was rejected by the Alaska Supreme Court, which said that before making adjustments to protect minorities, districts must be socially and economically integrated, as well as compact. However, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in June, the redistricting board’s process was somewhat streamlined.
Board attorney Michael White said it was “not possible” to draw a map that simultaneously satisfied both the Alaska Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Now that the key provision in the Voting Rights Act has effectively been nullified, the board needed only to construct a plan that abides by the state constitution.
The five-member board adopted the new plan unanimously on Sunday in a small downtown Anchorage room whose walls were plastered with proposed voting district maps.
Board chairman John Torgerson, a former Republican state senator, is satisfied with the revised map. He said the elimination of the Voter Rights Act requirements simply “gave us one set of rules instead of two.” He jokingly told the other board members, “I do want to see the rest of this board again, but never in this building.”
Board member Jim Holm expressed relief at ending the process. “It’s been an unusual course of events,” he said. Addressing Torgerson, he said, “You’re a little hard to get along with sometimes,” eliciting chuckles from the crowd. He also thanked Torgerson for his hard work.