Redistricting meetings set

Becky BohrerAssociated Press

JUNEAU-- The Alaska Redistricting Board plans to meet later this month to begin redrawing the state's political boundaries.

Meetings are scheduled March 26-31 to work toward adopting a new plan.

This comes after Wednesday's Alaska Supreme Court decision ordering the board to follow the process laid out in an earlier court case, Hickel v. Southeast Conference.

In that case, the court found that while compliance with a federal voting rights law takes precedence over compliance with the state constitution, the voting law needn't be elevated in such a way that the requirements of the constitution are unnecessarily compromised.

Wednesday's decision says the board must adhere to the process laid out in the Hickel case. The decision says the board must design a plan focusing on the constitutional requirements and then determine if it complies with federal law. If it doesn't comply, the board is to make revisions deviating from the constitution when deviation is the only means available to meet federal voting act requirements.

Because the board didn't follow the process, the court said the board can't meaningfully show that the plan's constitutional deficiencies were necessitated by the federal voting rights act. And, the decision said, the court cannot reliably decide the question.

It's not clear yet how dramatic the board's rewrite will need to be. Executive Director Taylor Bickford said the court's order left the door open to "any number of possibilities."

Whatever the board comes up with will need to win preclearance from the U.S. Justice Department as well as from the courts, he said.

Justice had given the early OK last fall to the current plan.

Bickford said the goal is for the board to have its work done by the June 1 candidate filing deadline.

The high court, in its order, said that if the board is unable to draft a plan that complies with its order in time for this year's elections, it can petition for an order that the elections be conducted under the plan as an interim plan. In that case, the court said, it would expect the plan to be modified to address House Districts 1 and 2.

Last month, Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy determined that House Districts 1, 2, 37 and 38 are unconstitutional as drawn. House Districts 1, 2 and 38 are in the Fairbanks area, with 1 and 2 urban districts and 38 being parts urban and rural, stretching from Fairbanks west to the Bering Sea. House District 37 splits the Aleutian chain.

The board and plaintiffs, two Fairbanks-area residents, made partial appeals. The board did not appeal McConahy's ruling in respect to Districts 1 and 2, and planned to just fix those.

The board's attorneys on Friday asked McConahy, to whom the case was sent back, to vacate his schedule order.

That order included an April 13 deadline for board adoption of a new plan. The attorneys, in part, said that McConahy lacks the authority to impose work deadlines on the board.

Associated Press