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Alaska Supreme Court approves interim redistricting plan

Ben Anderson

A contentious battle in the war over the redrawing of Alaska's voting districts came to very temporary conclusion on Tuesday, when the Alaska Supreme Court approved an April 5 plan that will be used for the 2012 election cycle. But the Alaska redistricting board must continue its work to balance the requirements of the Alaska Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.

In the Supreme Court order, the court said it opted for the April 5 plan because there had been "numerous objections" to a revised plan submitted May 15. The Supreme Court noted that the new plan likely complies with the Alaska Constitution, but may be invalid under the Federal Voting Rights act. The decision to return to the April 5 plan may flip that on its head, bringing it into compliance with the federal rules but raising continued questions about whether or not it complies with the state constitution. That April 5 plan had already passed federal muster.

The court wrote that although the districts under the May 15 plan may comply with Alaska's Constitution, "there is a risk that the United States Department of Justice would decline to pre-clear them under the Voting Rights Act. Notice of the failure of the (DOJ) to pre-clear the new districts would come so late in the 2012 election cycle that a great disruption to the election process would result."

Central to the issue is a redrawing of four Southeast Alaska House districts -- which also make up two Senate districts -- to bring them in line with state constitutional principles. But as election deadlines approach, an interim plan was needed for 2012 even as the board continues to drill down on the finer points.

Redistricting occurs every 10 years in coordination with the once-a-decade U.S. census. Alaska is one of nine states that must submit their maps to the federal government under the Voting Rights Act, due to the possibility of disenfranchisement of certain voter blocs.

The interim plan means a lot to campaigns: 59 out of 60 lawmakers are up for re-election this year, and it remains to be seen if the map favors Republicans or Democrats. New Alaska State Republican Party chairman-elect Russ Millette told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that he expects outcomes favorable to Republicans for several seats currently occupied by Democrats.