Alaska Democrats mull options on legislative redistricting

June 23, 2011 

JUNEAU -- Alaska Democrats aren't ruling out a lawsuit over the state's new redistricting plan that they believe is excessively partisan and does a disservice to residents.

Party Chairwoman Patti Higgins said Thursday that the party is doing its due diligence and weighing the plan's pros and cons. She said the party is also monitoring the response of others to the plan, which was finalized after a months-long process last week.

Democrats believe the new legislative boundaries drawn are unfair. Higgins noted the example of the Fairbanks area, from which population is pulled to create a vast new district that extends west to the Bering Sea. She said the huge size creates too much of a socioeconomic disparity, with parts in an urban area and others in extremely rural Alaska.

"It just kind of strikes at the heart of, will Alaskans be represented well under this structure, and I don't think so," she said in a phone interview. However, she said she's not sure whether that rises to the level of filing a lawsuit.

Any challenge to the plan must be made by July 13.

Taylor Bickford, the executive director of the Alaska Redistricting Board, defended the plan Thursday and disputed claims it was skewed along party lines.

He said the biggest challenge facing the board was ensuring the voice of Alaska Natives was protected in the political process. He said plans proposed by the Democrats and the Fairbanks North Star Borough were the only ones received by the board that did not take population from the Fairbanks area to help create a rural district. He said the borough's plan was identical to that of the Democrats.

Bickford also said the board took pieces of an array of proposals -- including those offered by the Democratic and Republican parties and local governments -- in drafting its ultimate plan.

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