7 of 9 Assembly seats to be up for election

Juneau to reconfigure its election districts to make populations equal

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Seven of nine Juneau Assembly seats will be up for election this fall or next because of reapportionment, City Attorney John Corso said Monday.

The populations of the city's two election districts are out of balance, based on new information from the state Division of Elections, City Clerk Laurie Sica told the Juneau Assembly on Monday. While state and federal standards allow a 10 percent difference between the district populations, Juneau's disparity is 12.1 percent, she said.

Juneau needs to reconfigure its election districts to make them equal, Corso said. As a result, all Assembly members who represent districts would be up for re-election when the reapportionment plan is implemented, he said. Usually, three Assembly seats are up for election each fall.

"At-large members are not affected, but everyone else would be," he said.

Based on the new state numbers, the population in Assembly District 1 is 13,484 people. The District 2 population is 17,227. District 1 includes downtown Juneau and Douglas. The Mendenhall Valley and Auke Bay are part of District 2.

Under reapportionment, Thane and North Douglas would be transferred from District 2 to District 1, Sica said.

When reapportionment occurs will depend on federal, state and city time frames, Corso said. The Assembly needs to introduce a reapportionment ordinance within 90 days of accepting the population figures and adopt it within 120 days. The ordinance then would be referred to the U.S. Department of Justice for review. Reapportionment would be implemented at the next regular municipal election that occurs 60 days after the department's approval, Corso said.

Whether the new districts apply in 2003 or 2004 will depend on whether the Assembly takes the full 120 days to adopt the ordinance, Corso said.

If the scenario applies this fall, for example, seven of nine Assembly seats would be up for election. Seats held by Mayor Sally Smith, District 1 Assembly member Ken Koelsch and District 2 member Dale Anderson are up election this fall anyway. But District 1 Assembly member Jeannie Johnson and Merrill Sanford, along with District 2 members Stan Ridgeway and Randy Wanamaker, would be up for election early.

Seats held by at-large, or areawide, Assembly members Marc Wheeler and Jim Powell would not be up for election this fall. The mayor's seat, which is up this year, is an areawide seat. Juneau Assembly seats normally have three-year terms.

In another twist, candidates wouldn't run for a particular seat. To make sure terms are staggered, the candidate in each district with the most votes would be elected to the three-year seat. The candidate with the second-highest votes would get the two-year seat and the candidate with the lowest number of votes would get the one-year seat, Corso said.

Assembly members were sent reeling with the news.

"This has kind of knocked the wind out of us," Mayor Sally Smith said.

Assembly member Jim Powell said reapportionment might be a good time to revisit the concept of district representation in Juneau.

"Do we want to stay with the way people are elected ... or do we want people voting from districts?" he asked "It does make me think about other broader issues, too."

The districts apply to candidates, not voters. All Juneau voters have a say in all Assembly races, but candidates who run for a district seat need to live in that district, Sica said. The last time a city reapportionment occurred was 1983, she said.

Assembly members will discuss the issue at an upcoming work session. Interim City Manager John MacKinnon said city staff would conduct a little more research into options and timelines.

"It's going to be one of those falls where you wish you own a yard sign company," he said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.

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