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Judge orders board to redraw 4 districts

Posted: February 5, 2012 - 1:07am

JUNEAU — The Alaska Redistricting Board must redraw three Fairbanks-area House districts and another in the Aleutian chain, a state court judge ruled Friday.

Judge Michael P. McConahy, in a lengthy ruling, determined that House Districts 1, 2, 37 and 38 are not in harmony with the state Constitution. House Districts 1, 2 and 38 are in the Fairbanks area, with 1 and 2 urban districts and 38 parts urban and rural, stretching from Fairbanks to the Bering Sea. House District 37 splits the Aleutian chain.

McConahy found that House District 5, another in the Fairbanks area, did not violate a constitutional requirement for compactness.

The redistricting board has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday to discuss the decision and whether to appeal, executive director Taylor Bickford said.

The state’s newly drawn political boundaries, based on results of the 2010 Census, were challenged by Fairbanks-area residents George Riley and Ron Dearborn, who alleged the new boundaries would dilute the representation of voters in the new districts. They claimed the plan violated Alaska constitutional standards for such things as compactness and socio-economically integrated districts.

Compactness relates to the shape of a district, and compact districting is not to yield weird designs, McConahy noted in his order.

The board had said its greatest challenge in developing a plan was ensuring that the voice of Alaska Natives was protected in the political process.

Under the federal voting rights law, Alaska’s redistricting plan cannot weaken the Alaska Native community’s ability to elect candidates of their choosing. The board needed at least nine districts in which a Native or Native-backed candidate was likely to be elected to maintain the seats held by those candidates after the 2000 redistricting.

The plan received preclearance from the U.S. Justice Department in October.

McConahy, in his decision, noted: “The devil is always in the details.”

He said House Districts 1 and 2 are not compact, and that no Voting Rights Act justification had been offered for deviating from that constitutional requirement in District 2. He said House District 37 violated constitutional requirements for compactness and contiguity. House District 38 violated the constitutional requirement of socio-economic integration, he ruled.

During trial, Democrats raised concerns about gerrymandering. McConahy said he found credible testimony from Republican board leaders that they were proud of the plan and were not influenced by their political affiliation.

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