Redistricting set to begin again
The long, complex process of dividing Alaska into legislative election districts is set to be repeated for the 2014 election, after the state supreme court handed down a split decision on Dec. 28 that the state redistricting board did not follow court’s directions while the board carved out the districts for last year’s elections.
The decision, written by Justice Walter Carpeneti, explains that the redistricting board failed to follow the process prescribed by the supreme court — specifically the Hickel Process.
The Hickel Process came out of the 1992 case of Hickel vs. Southeast Conference and outlines the redistricting process as first dividing the state into 40 legislative districts in accordance with the Alaska Constitution (Article VI, Section 6), and without regard for the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. The plan is then tested against VRA. The board can then minimize the requirements of the Alaska Constitution only if it is the only available means to satisfy VRA requirements which are intended to ensure that minority voters are not disenfranchised.
The supreme court decision states that the redistricting board first worked to ensure VRA compliance and then state constitutional compliance — reversing the order of the steps.
State redistricting commences every 10 years after the release of census data. The most recent data was available in March 2011. The Proclamation Plan from the redistricting board was ready and public hearings were held by June 2011. It was submitted to U.S. Department of Justice for preapproval regarding VRA compliance and approved by DOJ in October 2011.
However, challenges in Alaska Superior Court took redistricting back to the drawing board after Superior Court Judge Michael P. McConahy handed down a decision on Feb. 3 that four districts (1, 2, 37 and 38 — Districts 37 is in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region) unnecessarily deviated from the state constitution requirements. The redistricting board appealed the decision on Districts 37 and 38. On March 15 Alaska Superior Court Judge Michael P. McConahy directed the board to formulate a new redistricting plan consistent with the March 14 order of the Alaska Supreme Court.
By March 27, the board adopted a plan focusing solely on compliance with the Alaska constitutional requirements of contiguity, compactness, and relative socioeconomic integration and adopted the Amended Proclamation Plan on March 31.
The board filed a Notice of Compliance and Request for Entry of Final Judgment with the Alaska Superior Court on April 11. The purpose of the filing was to ask Judge Michael P. McConahy to approve the board’s Amended Proclamation Plan.
On April 16 seven parties filed objections to the Amended Proclamation Plan with the common complaint that the redistricting process had not followed the Hickel Process. The parties included the Association of Village Council Presidents, Calista Corporation, Aleutians East Borough, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Fairbanks North Star Borough, RIGHTS Coalition, City of Petersburg and Riley/Dearborn.
McConahy again instructed the board on April 20 to create a plan with only the state constitution in mind. The board unanimously voted on April 25 to appeal the decision.
On May 10 the state supreme court ordered that the Amended Proclamation Plan be used for the 2012 election, contingent on adjustments in the questioned Southeast districts. After the adjustments were made, the court gave approval to use the plan for the 2012 election.
In June, several Native individuals filed suit in federal court to stop state election officials from implementing a plan until the plan won DOJ approval. The court found that the plan would not cause “cause “specified irreparable damage.” That suit was followed by a challenge from Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty regarding tthe federal government’s authority to control Alaska’s elections.
The DOJ approved the plan on June 27.
The Primary Election was held on schedule Aug. 28.
As of press time the redistricting board had not stated whether it will appeal the Dec. 28 decision.
The board had spent $1.5 million on the 2011 redistricting plan and expected to spend another $1.4 million, according to an article on AlaskaDispatch.com in July. About half of the total was expected to used to defend the board’s actions in court.
The redistricting board is comprised of five members. Two are appointed by the governor, one by the senate president, one by the house speaker and one by the chief justice of the state supreme court.
Alaska Constitution, Article VI, Section 6, District Boundaries
The Redistricting Board shall establish the size and area of house districts, subject to the limitations of this article. Each house district shall be formed of contiguous and compact territory containing as nearly as practicable a relatively integrated socio-economic area. Each shall contain a population as near as practicable to the quotient obtained by dividing the population of the state by forty. Each senate district shall be composed as near as practicable of two contiguous house districts. Consideration may be given to local government boundaries. Drainage and other geographic features shall be used in describing boundaries wherever possible.