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.
The Alaska Redistricting Board has gone once again to the Alaska Supreme Court, this time asking the justices to clarify whether an earlier ruling requires it to redraw all of Alaska’s legislative districts from scratch. But while the board waits to hear if the court responds, it is doing little else. An attorney representing opponents of the previous redistricting plan has accused the board of wasting so much time that the 2014 election may have to be held under the same interim districts that yielded one-party rule in Juneau in the 2012 election. “They should get started sooner rather than later,” said Fairbanks attorney Jason Gazewood, representing two Fairbanks-area voters who successfully challenged the board’s 2012 districts in their area and fear a new plan will once again have constitutional flaws.
Alaska: Courts to blame for election map problems No guarantee election will happen as scheduled, chairman tells Chamber of Commerce | Juneau Empire
Alaska Redistricting Board Chairman John Torgerson criticized the Alaska Supreme Court for how it handled its involvement in drawing new state election maps in a speech to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. “This is a separation of powers issue, the court is trying to tell a constitutionally created board how to do its work,” the former Kenai legislator said. Juneau and its Southeast neighbors got a close-up look at that involvement when they were whipsawed back and forth, with first Petersburg, then Haines and finally Petersburg again part of a Juneau-based district. That happened as the court reversed itself on how it viewed the board’s attempt to create a Native-influenced voting district in Southeast. “We came down on the side that we wanted to protect Native voting strength in Southeast,” Torgerson said.
The Alaska Redistricting Board plans to appeal a judge’s rejection of its second stab at redrawing the state’s legislative boundaries. Executive Director Taylor Bickford also said Tuesday that the board plans to ask the Alaska Supreme Court to approve the new plan. As a backup, he said the board authorized its attorneys to draft a petition seeking to use its first plan for this year’s elections. Chairman John Torgerson would decide when any petition would be filed. The high court allowed for that option earlier this year when it sent the first plan back to the board for additional work. The court said that if the board couldn’t draft a plan that complies with its order in time for this year’s elections, it could petition to have the elections conducted under the plan as an interim plan.