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High court tosses out SE legislative maps

Redrawing maps will challenge election timelines

Posted: May 10, 2012 - 11:09pm

The Alaska Supreme Court has rejected the latest redistricting plan, telling the Alaska Redistricting Board it must redraw Southeast Alaska’s legislative districts.

The board wasn’t told specifically how to draw them, but was told to focus first on the Alaska Constitution’s requirements for legislative districts.

Among the constitutional requirements for legislative districts are “contiguity, compactness and relative socioeconomic integration,” along with other factors such as local government boundaries and drainage and other geographic features when possible.

Only then, the Supreme Court said, should it consider whether the map it draws complies with the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act to maximize minority influence in electing legislators.

The city of Petersburg has objected to inclusion in legislative districts dominated by Juneau, and said its interests were more closely aligned with neighbors Sitka, Wrangell and Ketchikan, cities with whom they now share legislators.

During the entire redistricting process, the board’s maps had remained consistent in Southeast, with Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley House seat remaining largely unchanged, and Petersburg, along with Tenakee Springs, Gustavus and Skagway becoming part of the downtown and Douglas Island seat.

Petersburg had returned to court on April 16 to again challenge the Redistricting Board, arguing they should be part of a Sitka district, instead of a Juneau district.

Once seemingly decided that seems likely to change, based on the Supreme Court ruling, though observers said it was difficult to predict how it might change.

“It’s one big puzzle, and that’s the problem,” said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, who now represents the downtown district.

“If you move one piece, everything else seems to have to shift around, too,” she said.

Under the compactness mandate and previous Supreme Court admonishments against splitting up Fairbanks, it appears Juneau is likely to remain part of one Senate and two House districts, but what else may be joined to Juneau is unclear.

After previous court rulings, the Redistricting staff had looked at making changes, but said they already had given the Alaska Constitution’s requirements priority over the Voting Rights Act.

The court didn’t appear to believe that, telling the board to reformulate the Southeast maps, based only on the Constitution, not the federal law.

“The reformulated plan should not be altered based on the Voting Rights Act (VRA) because there is no VRA justification for deviating from Alaska constitutional requirements in Southeast Alaska,” the court said Thursday.

That appears to mean there are no ways to draw maps to create a single House district with a politically significant number of Native voters.

Complicating things further is timing. State elections officials have said they need to have a final decision by Monday to ensure they have time to be ready for the August primary election. The scheduled filing deadline to run in that election is June 1.

The Supreme Court has ordered the Redistricting Board to submit its new plan for Southeast by noon Tuesday, the day after the Elections Division’s deadline.

The court has said elsewhere the board should use a previous plan known as the Amended Proclamation Plan as an interim plan for the 2012 elections.

If courts later change that plan, it could mean that Alaska will have used different election district boundaries in the 2010, 2012 and 2014 elections.

Hanging over everything is the U.S. Department of Justice review for compliance the Voting Rights Act, a process known as pre-clearance. That can take a month or two.

“I don’t care what they do, I’m happy representing Petersburg, but they need to do something quickly,” Kerttula said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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