Anchorage

Anchorage leaders will soon choose new district boundaries. Here’s what that could mean for voters.

The Anchorage Assembly is moving ahead with a process that will change the boundaries of its election districts and is also adding a 12th elected seat. For some Anchorage residents, the process will eventually change the district they live in — and therefore their representative.

The reapportionment process drawing new district boundaries generally happens every 10 years after the U.S. census is complete. During this year’s reapportionment, an Assembly seat will also be added after voters in 2020 approved a proposal giving District 1, downtown, a second seat.

The change will provide residents there with representation equal to the rest of the districts. It may also enhance the veto power of the Anchorage Assembly.

Changing the district boundaries has the potential to shift the balance of power on the Assembly somewhat, as the type of candidates voters elect in the coming years will reflect the districts’ changed demographics.

Depending on the way district lines are ultimately drawn, some people living in more liberal-leaning districts could find themselves living and voting in a more conservative district, or conservatives may find themselves part of a more liberal district. All of that could impact who gets elected.

“Wherever the lines end up can have an effect on who the representative is and what happens in that district,” Assembly member Pete Petersen said. “It’s an important thing.”

Reapportionment won’t be complete before the upcoming April regular election, so it won’t affect the 2022 election.

However, the process is underway. The Anchorage Assembly is holding two town halls this week so voters can provide feedback on the possible district boundaries.

The first town hall is a virtual event Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. On Thursday, an in-person town hall will be held in the Wilda Marston Theater at the Loussac Library from 6 to 8 p.m.

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Here’s a breakdown of what reapportionment means, how it works and what the process will look like:

What is reapportionment?

Under the city’s charter, the Assembly must decide whether it needs to shift the boundaries of its six districts after the state finalizes its own redistricting plan, which occurs once the U.S. census is complete.

The Assembly then has two months to determine if district population sizes are significantly different. If so, it must declare itself malapportioned — a declaration that the Anchorage Assembly made last November.

Then the reapportionment process begins.

The Assembly has contracted a company, Resource Data Inc., to come up with four possible options for new district boundaries. Local political organizations and individuals have also submitted their own suggested boundary maps.

For example, Anchorage Action, a group formed after the election of Mayor Dave Bronson that often organizes in support of the Assembly majority and is critical of the mayor, submitted a map.

So far there are 10 map proposals on the Assembly’s reapportionment website.

Boundary lines can’t be drawn willy-nilly — the city’s charter has a few specific requirements: The districts must be “compact and contiguous” and must contain “as nearly as practicable a relatively integrated socioeconomic area,” according to charter.

Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant is heading the Assembly’s reapportionment committee, and he said that after taking feedback on the proposals this week, the committee will meet and review public comments. Then in mid-February, the Assembly will introduce its proposed redistricting plan.

It will hold two public hearings on the plan at two Assembly meetings. It is slated to vote on the plan after its second public hearing, at the first Assembly meeting in March.

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The mayor could veto the plan the Assembly adopts, but the Assembly could also vote to override a veto.

Usually, the process would have been completed and new district boundaries adopted before the April election, Constant said. But the pandemic delayed the U.S. census and, in turn, the state’s redistricting process, ultimately pushing the Assembly’s process past its usual timeline, he said.

Why it matters

Some Anchorage residents may find their neighborhoods suddenly incorporated into a different district — something that is more likely for people living near the edges of their current districts.

That means for the months between when the reapportionment process is complete and the next municipal election, those residents would be living in a district represented by Assembly members they didn’t vote on.

In part, that’s because the census delayed the entire process and the new district boundaries won’t be in place before the April election.

Petersen, also a part of the reapportionment committee, said it could have wide-ranging impacts on many residents’ representation.

“You’ve been in a district in East Anchorage and all of the sudden you’re stuck with Eagle River. Or if you’re in a district in Midtown, all of the sudden you’re stuck with South Anchorage,” Petersen said.

It’s also possible that a sitting Assembly member could end up living in a different district than the one they were elected to represent after the reapportionment process is complete, Petersen said.

They would then likely have to run against another sitting Assembly member for a seat in that district.

“It could put two incumbents into a race against each other — that’s happened before,” Petersen said. “... There’s a lot of possibilities, and it just depends on where the final lines end up.”

The state’s new legislative boundaries have resulted in a court battle and the outcome of the trial, which began last week, could be appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Petersen said that Anchorage could see similar legal challenges to whatever plan it adopts.

“There’s usually controversy involved with drawing these lines every 10 years,” he said.

Adding a 12th seat

In 2020, Anchorage voters approved a proposition adding a second Assembly seat to District 1, downtown, which is currently only represented by Constant. All other districts have two Assembly representatives.

That proposition included a requirement that the state’s redistricting triggers the addition of the 12th seat, and that seat’s district must be set during the Assembly’s reapportionment process.

Now representation in District 1 “will be proportional and equal” to the rest of the districts, Constant said.

Constant said he sees the addition of a 12th seat as something that will affect the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of city government, possibly making it easier for the Assembly to override mayoral vetoes — an issue that has cropped up much more frequently since the election of Mayor Bronson.

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The city charter says that the Assembly needs a two-thirds majority vote to override a veto. Since two-thirds of 11 is “seven and some change,” the Assembly currently needs eight votes to override the mayor, Constant said. Two-thirds of 12 members is also eight, meaning that with another Assembly member, it may be easier to reach the eight votes needed to override a mayoral veto, he said.

Constant and Bronson have frequently opposed each other over city issues, and the Assembly and Bronson have often disagreed over city legislation, with the Assembly voting to override multiple vetoes from Bronson since he took office last year.

However, it’s not yet clear exactly when the additional Assembly member will join or exactly how that process will work — municipal lawyers must hash out the details of that legal process, Constant said.

He said he is in favor of holding a special election for the seat as soon as possible so his district gets equal representation quickly, shortly after the Assembly adopts its new district boundaries.

Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. She earned her degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. Contact her at egoodykoontz@adn.com.

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