ANCHORAGE - Alaska's new redistricting map received final approval from a judge Thursday in what is likely to end a lengthy court battle and months of political wrangling. Districts in rural areas and Southeast were largely untouched.
Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner said the amended plan by the five-member Alaska Redistricting Board was "reasonable and constitutional in all respects."
The plan needed to be in place by June 1, the deadline for candidates to file in the 2002 election.
Rindner's approval came nearly a year after the board issued its original plan, which faced nine legal challenges. Republicans complained that the plan was partisan for pitting 20 Republican incumbents against each other.
Plaintiffs also complained that the 40-district map failed to satisfy state constitutional requirements that districts be compact, of equal population, and socially and economical integrated.
Plaintiffs included individuals, as well as the Republican Party, the cities of Anchorage, Valdez, Wasilla, Cordova and Craig, and the Aleutians East and the Lake and Peninsula boroughs.
Plaintiffs lawyer Michael White said two of the plaintiffs, Anchorage and the city of Craig, can appeal Rindner's approval. But he said the request would not automatically mean the plan would be reviewed again.
Board President Vicki Otte said population decreases in Southeast Alaska made it impossible to satisfy the Craig plaintiffs. Rindner had found that House District 5 was not compact and ordered the board to provide more documentation on why the configuration was necessary to satisfy the federal Voting Rights Act.
The district stretches throughout Southeast, but doesn't include all of Prince of Wales Island.
"I wish we could have pleased everybody. Craig was the one that wasn't," Otte said.
Alaska is required under the act to preserve the political representation of Alaska Natives because it has a history of voter discrimination.
The board ended up redrawing districts in the large population centers of Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
The redrawn map severed a connection between Anchorage and Valdez and instead recreated the so-called "Richardson Highway" district from Fairbanks to Valdez, linking a portion of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough with Anchorage and the Denali Borough with parts of Fairbanks.
The new plan would pit at least a dozen Republican incumbents against each other in the August primary.
"It can't be characterized as a partisan plan in any way," board lawyer Philip R. Volland said of the new map.
State Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich said the new plan is acceptable because it reduces population deviations in Anchorage and nearly gives each person equal representation.
"We have achieved one person, one vote," he said.
Plaintiffs lawyer White also said he was satisfied with the new plan.
Rindner found problems in the original plan with two districts, House District 16 in Chugiak because it was not compact, and House District 12 - which had included parts of the Mat-Su Borough and all of the Denali Borough - because it did not share enough socially or economically.
The state Supreme Court went further, striking down more than half of the House districts.
Board president Otte said the Supreme Court ruling gave the board time to sort out the problems. The board voted 5-0 in favor of the new map after two days of meetings in mid-April.
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