Supreme Court gets new district maps

Latest plan switches Juneau representatives for some voters

The Alaska Redistricting Board Tuesday submitted its latest, and highly controversial, map of new state election districts to the Alaska Supreme Court.

The board then asked the court to order the map that one of its own members called “abhorrent” be used for this year’s elections.

“The Board has redrawn the Southeast district without regard to the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act,” the board told the court, and used only the Alaska Constitution’s requirements for drawing district boundaries.

The Southeast maps suddenly became a focus of the board after the court on May 10 told it to redraw them, giving preference the Alaska Constitution, not the federal law.

The federal Voting Rights Act is aimed at preventing states from using gerrymandered electoral districts to disenfranchise minorities. It required the Department of Justice give “pre-clearance” approval to make sure new districts don’t do that in some states.

In the Southern U.S., districts were drawn to limit African-American voting clout, while in Alaska there was a history of disenfranchising Native voters.

The change required by the courts eliminates current districts drawn to give Native voters more power, and which helped Southeast elect two Native legislators, Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, and Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines.

Redistricting Board member PeggyAnn McConnochie of Juneau, who was the one who called the map “abhorrent,” said it could make it difficult for the Southeast’s Native legislators to win re-election.

“I’m worried about what happens to our currently elected Native representatives and senators,” she said.

She and other board members adopted the plan unanimously, saying they had no choice given the Supreme Court’s instructions.

By ignoring the Voting Rights Act, both Native legislators affected have now been located in districts in which they were less known to voters and faced incumbent, non-Native legislators.

Under the new Southeast plan required by the court, Haines and Skagway, Juneau’s neighbors to the North, were joined to the northernmost Juneau House District

That’s forced a dramatic change within Juneau, where the boundary between the two Juneau House districts has been pushed north.

The downtown House district is currently District 3 but under the new it would become district 32. The current House District 4, often called the valley district, would become District 31 under the new map.

Both would be joined together to make Senate District P, represented by Sen. Dennis Egan, a Democrat who will be the only legislator in Alaska not having to run to keep his this year.

Moving the line between the two Juneau House districts towards the north will move many Juneauites currently represented by Republican Cathy Munoz into a district represented by Democrat Beth Kerttula.

On the west side of Glacier Highway, Kerttula’s district now runs all the way up to Mendenhall Peninsula and the shore of Auke Bay.

It even now goes up Mendenhall Valley on the southern side of Mendenhall Loop Road. That district now includes the neighborhoods on both sides of Tongass Blvd., as far up the valley as Jennifer Drive.

It is not clear whether that new map will survive federal review, and Munoz said she’s already anticipating Native groups will challenge it.

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

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