Ballot Measure 1 will improve communication

Bruce Botelho

On Nov. 2, Alaskans will be asked to increase the size of the legislature. Ballot Measure 1 would amend the Alaska Constitution by adding two senators and four representatives to the state legislature. Because I believe this amendment will benefit our republican form of government, I urge a "yes" vote.

The size of the Alaska Legislature, the smallest bicameral legislature in the nation, has remained unchanged since statehood. During the intervening 50 years, however, Alaska's population has grown more than three-fold, from 226,000 in 1960 to nearly 700,000 today.

These population gains have not been distributed evenly around the state. Instead, they have been concentrated in a few urban areas. Because of the principle of "one person-one vote," each legislative district (for both the House and the Senate) has roughly the same number of voters. This has meant that, with each decennial reapportionment, the geographical disparity between our largest and smallest districts has steadily increased.

Thus, today Senate District C encompasses 266,000 square miles, the size of Texas. By contrast, Senate District J is only five square miles. Similarly House District 6 is larger than the 13 smallest states combined (214,000 square miles), while House District 20 covers only two square miles.

Once the 2010 Decennial Census results are presented to the Alaska Reapportionment Board in early 2011, it will begin the process of re-drawing legislative district boundaries. Its overriding mandate is to make sure that the vote of an Alaskan who lives in Anchorage carries the same weight -- no more, no less -- than the vote of an Alaskan who lives in Aniak. Ballot Measure 1 will not change that.

What Ballot Measure 1 is designed to address is the widening geographic disparity in our districts. We intuitively know that, all else being equal, a legislator whose district is compact -- in some cases, only a few square miles in size -- can more effectively communicate with and represent his or her constituents than a legislator whose district covers tens of thousands of square miles and encompasses culturally and linguistically distinct regions.

Ballot Measure 1 will not improve the current disparity, but it will prevent the condition from getting worse. The challenge of representing rural Alaskans in far-flung districts is already Herculean. All Alaskans have a stake in making sure that effective representation for every corner of this state is not further diminished.

Bruce Botelho served as Alaska's attorney general under Govs. Wally Hickel and Tony Knowles. He is currently Juneau's mayor.