Assembly considers changes to election district boundaries

Citizens group also gathering signatures for single-member-district alternative

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2003

At its Monday night meeting, the Juneau Assembly will consider an ordinance that changes the boundaries of local election districts to balance their populations.

City Attorney John Corso told the Assembly four months ago the city is required to make the adjustments. The city also must change how it defines the districts in code, according to City Clerk Laurie Sica. New state and federal standards allow a 10 percent difference between the district populations. Juneau's current election district code allows a 15 percent disparity.

"There was actually a 12 percent deviation between the two districts in population," Sica explained. "Our code was out of date. It doesn't meet state statutes."

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

The new Assembly districts would be identical to the districts used in state elections.

Juneau's code also requires that Assembly members run for re-election when their districts change, but the new ordinance would allow sitting members to finish out their terms, Sica said.

Without the change, seven of nine Juneau Assembly seats would be up for election this fall. Usually, three Assembly seats are up for election each fall.

Dennis Harris, Terry Hoskinson and Frederick Hoskinson are among a small group of citizens circulating a petition that would put a different redistricting scheme on the ballot in the fall.

Their plan would create eight geographic districts, mandate Assembly members run from the district they live in and require members be elected only by the people they represent.

"It's a campaign-reform issue. It means that people could run for office by going door to door, getting to know their constituents," Terry Hoskinson said.

Juneau's Assembly has two area-wide seats and three seats from each of its two districts. During elections, all Juneau voters may vote for area-wide candidates and candidates from both districts.

"The intent was to try to get some type of distribution so not every elected person lived downtown or in the Valley," Sica said, adding that there is no requirement members continue to live in their district after they are elected.

Frederick Hoskinson said that making members run from geographic districts would ensure members were more familiar with the specific needs of their neighborhood.

It also would make campaigns more manageable and less costly.

"Each politician is basically going to be elected by their neighbors, people that know them," he said. "I don't think you can buy that kind of an election."

To get the redistricting measure on the ballot as a charter amendment, the group has to collect 2,123 signatures by Monday.

The Hoskinsons said they are far below their target.

"It's really easy to get people to sign them," Frederick Hoskinson said. "People seem to mostly be in favor of getting the issue on the ballot."

He said anyone interested in helping with the petition drive could contact him at Snowfree Video.

Dennis Harris, who is organizing the redistricting petition drive, did not return several calls.

If the Assembly passes the redistricting ordinance Monday night, it must be approved by the Department of Justice before it can go in to effect.

Julia O'Malley can be reached at jomalley@juneauempire.com.



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