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Board submits election plan to Justice Dept.

Expert says Native voting voice not reduced in new plan

Posted: May 27, 2012 - 12:11am

The Alaska Redistricting Board on Friday submitted the redistricting plan it adopted with the Alaska Supreme Court’s approval to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The board is seeking required federal approval, known as “pre-clearance,” that the plan does not diminish Native voting power.

The plan it submitted, the Amended Proclamation Plan, was adopted after much debate and legal action.

The Supreme Court had earlier issued a surprise ruling the board was to draft a plan without consideration of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Following objections from groups such as the Alaska Federation of Natives and Central Council Tlingit-Haida Indians of Alaska, the court then made a dramatic reversal, and agreed the plan needed to attempt to maximize Native voting influence in Southeast to avoid risking rejection by the Department of Justice.

The Voting Rights Act requires redistricting be free from discriminatory purpose, and will not result in “retrogression,” or the reduction in racial minorities ability to exercise their voting power.

Redistricting Board Executive Director Taylor Bickford said the plan does that, containing eight effective Native voting districts, five House and three Senate.

The board considered about 42 percent Native voting age population to be an “effective” Native district, where a Native legislator would have a good chance to be elected.

The plan also contains a Native “influence” district in Southeast, with about one-third Native population.

The plan submitted Friday is the same as the current system, adopted in 2002, and thus isn’t retrogressive, he said.

The board also submitted to the Department of Justice a report from its expert consultant, Lisa Handley.

“In my expert opinion the Amended Proclamation Plan is not retrogressive,” Handley concluded, and said it thus should be pre-cleared under the Voting Rights Act.

Districts with a racial majority don’t necessarily mean they’ll always elect a candidate from that majority. One current effective Native district has elected a white legislator, while in a majority white district a Native legislator was elected, Handley noted.

Handley said the under both current and new plans, Alaska will have five effective Native House districts, same as now, and one influence district in Southeast.

While the House districts were difficult to draw, the Senate districts were even trickier.

With the likely loss of an effectively Native Senate district in Southeast, the one now held by Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, another had to be created.

That was accomplished by dividing the heavily Native Yukon-Kuskokwim area to create three effective Native districts there.

The Department of Justice had 60 days to review the plan, meaning that Alaska may not get final word until a month before the Aug. 28 primary election.

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

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