High Court Approves Partial Redistricting Plan
Orders board to re-draw Southeast map
ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Supreme Court Thursday adopted a redistricting plan for this year’s legislative elections, except for Southeast Alaska.
The court ordered the Redistricting Board to redraw Southeast lines by noon next Tuesday, in light of the urgency expressed by the Division of Elections in preparing for the candidate filing deadline on June 1.
Superior Court Judge Michael P. McConahy earlier had expressed concerns about Southeast, writing: “While the court previously did rule that House District 32 in Southeast was ‘compact enough,’ this was in light of the board’s argument that the departure from strict adherence to the compactness requirement is justified by its need to draw a redistricting plan that avoids retrogression and complies with the Voting Rights Act.”
The board should have first tried to draw boundaries without regard to the federal voting law, McConahy wrote.
The City of Petersburg is objecting to its inclusion in a House district with Skagway and part of Juneau.
The interim plan for the rest of Alaska ordered by the court is not exactly the one recommended by the board. The adopted plan reunites the Aleutian chain, which had been split into two districts, and has some other minor differences.
With an interim plan in effect this year, another map would have to be adopted later for elections from 2014 to 2020.
The justices heard oral arguments on the case today, the second time the matter has come before them this year.
The post-Census redistricting process, always a Byzantine matter, is particularly complicated this year.
Alaska, more than twice the size of Texas but with the third smallest population in America, faces unique challenges in geography, distance, cultural differences and population dispersal.
Those problems are compounded by the tension between the state constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.
A new map in Alaska must be “pre-cleared” by the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure that Alaska Natives do not lose voting strength. Under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, that federal review can supersede the state constitutional requirements that State House and Senate districts must be compact and socially and economically integrated.
So the question is how much “relaxation” of state constitutional standards is needed to get DOJ approval.
And that has been the basis of the litigation.
DOJ review can take up to 60 days, creating extreme time pressure now.
The Redistricting Board already has had the first iteration of its plan pre-cleared by DOJ. But it has since tweaked that plan to eliminate compactness concerns with two Fairbanks districts.
Board attorney Michael White told the justices the two districts do not have issues related to Alaska Natives, so there is no concern that DOJ would fail to approve.
But Justice Dana Fabe pressed the point that DOJ in fact has not approved that plan as a whole.
“DOJ isn’t going to backtrack on a plan it’s already cleared,” White responded.