Alaska legislative district size still in question

Posted: Sunday, November 07, 2010

FAIRBANKS - The size of legislative districts in Alaska remains a problem after voters rejected a statewide measure to expand the number of representatives.

Analysts say some Alaska House districts, the largest in the United States, are growing too big to ensure constituents access to their representatives.

Voter rejection of Measure 1 on Tuesday means that questions about access and representation are still facing some of the sprawling districts in the Alaska Bush, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The Alaska Legislature has stayed at 60 members - 40 representatives and 20 senators - since statehood, making it the smallest two-chamber Legislature in the country.

But the state's population has since tripled, with population gains in cities easily outpacing changes in villages.

The failed measure called for expanding the Legislature by 10 percent - only half the original suggestion by consultants.

State and rural leaders now must debate alternatives and engage urban communities before the 2020 census arrives with new population numbers.

"It is going to need understanding and cooperation from urban voters to solve," Gordon Harrison, a former state redistricting director, told the Daily News-Miner by e-mail Wednesday. "Some sympathetic urban legislators and public figures are going to have to step up and assume leadership for a measure like this to be approved by the majority of the voters."

The state constitution and federal voting laws require that districts be as "compact" as reasonably possible.

They also require that redistricting preserve minorities' voting power when borders get redrawn - a potential problem for the state's five-member redistricting board, which expects already huge rural districts will need to grow again.

Nebraska's 49-member Legislature has only one chamber, a format some have suggested for Alaska. A bill from state Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, this year called for giving voters a say at collecting Alaska's 60 lawmakers under one roof, which would address the representation problem.

"Government would not grow in size," a statement from Kawasaki accompanying his bill read. "But yet citizens would have greater access to their legislator through smaller district sizes."

The bill died in committee this spring.

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