Justice Department won't bar census sampling in Alaska

Posted: Monday, July 10, 2000

ANCHORAGE -- The U.S. Justice Department has refused to approve provisions of state law barring use of sampling to adjust census figures when new legislative districts are drawn - at least until detailed census figures are available.

The decision came in a letter Friday from Joseph Rich, acting chief of the department's voting section, to James L. Baldwin, an assistant attorney general for the state.

The Legislature approved measures in 1998 and 1999 mandating the state use actual, rather than sampled, census figures in redistricting. The state asked the Justice Department in May to rule on whether those laws are in line with federal voting law.

The Justice Department gave a provisional no and deferred its final ruling on the sampling issue until detailed census figures are in.

The Alaska case was being closely watched because several other states are also seeking approval of redistricting plans that bar the use of ``sampling'' to alter census data.

For Alaska, ``right now, pre-existing law is the rule of the day - which is that the board had complete discretion on whether to adjust census data,'' Baldwin said Friday.

Census figures come out on or about April 1 of next year, and the redistricting commission is required to have a working district map available 30 days later. The final plan has to be adopted within 90 days of the April 1 date, he said.

In the last round of redistricting, after the 1990 census, the anti-sampling provision wouldn't have made any difference, Baldwin said.

But there have been significant changes in the nonresident military population since then.

``With (the Navy base at) Adak gone and Fort Greely going, it places more of the military population in the Railbelt,'' Baldwin said.

The census counts people by their residence, not where they vote. So areas with high populations of servicemen and women who vote in other states can artificially inflate the voting power of their neighbors. Likewise, areas with many homeless people who aren't counted will have less political influence than their populations warrant.

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