A sense of relief was palpable on Sunday afternoon as the Alaska Redistricting Board adopted a revised voting district map, potentially ending the board’s seven-month saga of drawing and redrawing the state’s voter districts. The map in place, used in the 2012 elections, was found to be unconstitutional by the courts.
Alaska’s voting districts are redrawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census, but the board was forced to go back to the drawing board after its last attempt was rejected by the Alaska Supreme Court, which said that before making adjustments to protect minorities, districts must be socially and economically integrated, as well as compact.
However, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in June, the redistricting board's process was somewhat streamlined.
Tough balancing act
Board attorney Michael White said it was “not possible” to draw a map that simultaneously satisfied both the Alaska Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Now that the key provision in the Voting Rights Act has effectively been nullified, the board needed only to construct a plan that abides by the state constitution.
The five-member board adopted the new plan unanimously on Sunday in a small downtown Anchorage room whose walls were plastered with proposed voting district maps.
Board chairman John Torgerson, a former Republican state senator, is satisfied with the revised map. He said the elimination of the Voter Rights Act requirements simply “gave us one set of rules instead of two.”
He jokingly told the other board members, “I do want to see the rest of this board again, but never in this building.”
Board member Jim Holm expressed relief at ending the process. “It’s been an unusual course of events,” he said. Addressing Torgerson, he said, “You’re a little hard to get along with sometimes,” eliciting chuckles from the crowd. He also thanked Torgerson for his hard work.
Member Bob Brody said that they worked for “hundreds and hundreds of hours” on the new map. “It’s a hard job to take 725,000 interests and divide them up 40 ways.” In the end, he said, “I’m satisfied.”
The new plan pits four Republican incumbents against each other in two races: Former North Pole mayor Doug Isaacson will face off with two-term Rep. Tammie Wilson, and in Eagle River, Reps. Anna Fairclough and Fred Dyson of will face off in the primary, should each candidate decide to seek re-election.
Fairclough said Sunday that she will accept whatever the board decides. “It’s hard to please everybody,” she said. “We need to do what’s best for the people of Alaska.” She said that she and Dyson are friends, and they will “have to have a conversation about what is best with our community,” before she decides whether or not to run in the 2014 election.
In North Pole, Isaacson is objecting to the separation of the Eielson Air Force Base from the rest of the local community. "The issue is not if incumbents are pitted against each other but whether residents are represented constitutionally," Isaacson relayed to Alaska Dispatch on Friday, via a statement from his staff.
White said that there were some “hard choices” in drawing the new map, and Interior Alaska was one of the trickiest places to draw out due to “excess population.” The Fairbanks North Star Borough has enough people for 5.5 districts, he said, and given certain requirements for district populations, that half-district had to go somewhere. Eielson, therefore, was placed in a different district than North Pole, to balance out the numbers.
White will file the revised map with the Fairbanks Superior Court this week. Torgerson said the map will “absolutely” be approved by the court.
Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com