Last week a Fairbanks Superior Court Judge said the Alaska Redistricting Board should immediately begin redrawing the state’s election districts.
Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy, in a sharply-worded order, also said the board must hold public hearings on whatever it comes up with.
McConahy has been presiding over challenges to the redistricting plan. He said Alaska’s no closer to having "constitutional voting districts" than it was in February 2012, when he found several districts were unconstitutional as drawn, or last December, when the Alaska Supreme Court ordered the map be redrawn for next year’s elections.
“It was a little gross generalization to say the total plan was everybody’s had unconstitutional representation was a bit of hyperbole there, but …. I’ll just leave it at that.”
That’s Kodiak’s Bob Brodie, who sits on the Redistricting Board. He says it seems the court’s issue with the election map had more to do with the process than the outcome.
“That was the bone of contention I think, in that we went in and drew Native districts based on what we thought the voters rights act would require, – and which ultimately passed review with the federal government – and then drew the rest of the state," Brodie said "The state Supreme Court said we did it backwards; we should have drawn all the state districts and then change them to satisfy the voters rights act. It seems like you get to the same product in the end, it just a matter of how you approach it. But for some reason they felt whatever we did in Bethel and Savoonga tainted what happened in Mountain View and Spenard, which seems like a stretch.”
The Redistricting Board was formed to conduct reapportionment after the results of the once-a-decade U.S. Census were released, to make sure each district has a roughly equal number of residents. Complicating the matter is a Federal Election Commission requirement that Alaska submit its redistricting plan for approval in order to ensure Native voting areas are not diluted. Federal law trumps state law, but the Alaska Supreme Court ruled the plan did not meet state requirements the districts be as compact as possible.
When he was appointed over two years ago, Brodie was optimistic a plan could come together quickly and fairly.
“I had no idea it was going to be quite such an involved process. Throughout it we had quite a transparent process, with public meetings and posting things on websites for the public to see. I think the public ahs had more of a opportunity to have a look at what’s going on than ever in the past because of technology. When you have 720,000 people it’s hard to please everybody, and they have a perfect right to seek redress in the courts. You try to weigh everybody’s interest and do the right thing. So I’m getting quite an education.”
He said the redistricting board was hoping to await a U.S. Supreme Court decision on provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act before redrawing the map, but Judge McConahy says the board doesn’t need to wait. Brodie says he hadn’t spoken with Board Chair John Torgeson of Kasilof, but anticipates a call to gather in the near future.