ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Supreme Court Wednesday refused to postpone Friday's deadline for legislative candidates to file with the Division of Elections.
But that doesn't necessarily mean smooth sailing for this year's elections for the state House and Senate. On Friday, the Alaska Redistricting Board formally submitted a new electoral map to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
The department has to sign off on any changes in the post-census landscape to ensure the voting strength of Alaska Natives is not diluted. Some groups want the new map rejected, a move that could protract the process and push the August primary election into the fall.
Vicki Otte has an unusual vantage point in this year's redistricting process. Ten years ago, she served as chairwoman of the board and oversaw the drawing of new lines. Now, she's objecting to the work of her successors.
"I do know that people have gone and met with the Department of Justice already," she said.
Otte's group, Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, is concerned the new legislative map threatens to reduce the clout of Alaska Natives in areas where they have been able to elect lawmakers of their choice.
"What has been done by the redistricting board puts those House and Senate seats in jeopardy, and the Alaska Native candidate of choice can lose, thereby reducing the number of House seats and Senate seats into the future to four House seats and two Senate seats, whereas now we have the five and three."
What happens if Native leaders succeed in persuading DOJ to reject Alaska’s plan?
Says Michael White, attorney for the redistricting board: "What happens if we do not obtain pre-clearance, that's difficult to ascertain at this point in time. Something obviously will have to be done. I'm assuming that could be anything from elections being delayed to having to use the original plan that the board adopted that's already been pre-cleared."
The Department of Justice has another 55 days to act - that is until late July, just one month before the August 28 primary election.
At that point there would seem to be no chance of the board re-drawing the map, taking any lawsuits to the Alaska Supreme Court and getting DOJ approval of the new iteration in time for the election.
White says that's not as bad as it might appear.
"Whatever plan is adopted, it's not going to be wholesale changes across the board. I mean, nothing has changed even from the board's original plan in most of the urban areas. We're dealing really here with very few districts.”
But White admits that not all ripple effects can be foreseen, so while it's certain elections will be held, there's less of a guarantee about when.