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Judge: Alaska redistricting plan passes muster

Posted: November 19, 2013 - 1:00am

JUNEAU — A state court judge accepted Alaska’s latest redistricting plan Monday, saying the newly redrawn political boundaries meet constitutional standards.

Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy also found the Alaska Redistricting Board’s decisions regarding truncation of certain Senate seats due to changes in the makeup of those districts pass constitutional muster.

He said the record does not support any inference that the standard adopted by the board for what constitutes a substantial change in a district was chosen to protect Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, a concern that had been raised among the plaintiffs.

Senators generally stand for re-election every four years, but terms for some members can be truncated if a new redistricting plan results in substantially different districts for them.

Nicole Corr, an attorney for the board, said the board believed from the beginning that this was a “good, sound plan” and said the board was pleased the court agreed.

Attorneys for the Fairbanks-area residents who sued over the original plan were not immediately available for comment.

A spokesman for the state Democratic Party, which also challenged the plan, said he was reading through the decision Monday afternoon. The decision can be appealed.

The Alaska Supreme Court in December ordered the redistricting board to redraw Alaska’s political boundaries after allowing an interim map to be used for the 2012 elections.

The high court found the board had not followed the process it was instructed to follow in redrawing the map the first time. That process, laid out in an earlier case, called for the board to design a plan focusing on state constitutional requirements and then determine whether the plan complies with federal law. If it didn’t comply, the board was to make revisions deviating from the constitution when deviation was the only means available to meet the federal voting act requirements.

But the U.S. Supreme Court in June found unconstitutional a provision of the federal Voting Rights Act that determines which states must get Justice Department approval for proposed election changes. While the court did not rule on the requirement that those states get federal approval for election changes, the decision effectively did away with the mandate, unless Congress comes up with a new formula.

McConahy, in his order, said no judge or justice currently sitting on an Alaska court has reviewed a plan without consideration of the federal requirement.

“The Alaska Constitutional guidance has not changed, but the language and focus is significantly different in analyzing the 2013 Proclamation Plan” than in prior iterations, he said.

Challenges to the latest plan included issues of compactness and socio-economic integration in several districts. But McConahy found the way in which those districts were drawn passed constitutional muster.

He also said the overall deviation from the ideal House district size is 4.2 percent in this plan, which he said is the lowest deviation in Alaska redistricting history.

___

Online:

To see a copy of Judge McConahy’s order: http://akredistricting.org/pleadings.html

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