Politics

Final pick for Alaska’s redistricting board is Native nonprofit CEO from Nome

Alaska Chief Justice Joel Bolger has picked Melanie Bahnke of Nome for the final seat on the board that will redraw Alaska’s election boundaries following the 2020 census. Bahnke is the president and CEO of regional nonprofit Kawerak Inc. and is an Alaska Federation of Natives board member.

Bahnke is an undeclared voter, meaning the board will have two undeclared voters and three Republicans.

“I’m an independent thinker,” she said and doesn’t like to align herself with any particular party.

Alaska’s redistricting board, intended to be a nonpartisan body under the terms of a 1998 constitutional amendment, will redraw the state’s election map to accommodate changes in population since the last census. The board will have 90 days to draft a new map after the census delivers figures in summer 2021.

The board can’t add seats to the 60-member Alaska Legislature; instead, its mission is to ensure districts have similar populations. Preliminary projections indicate the Matanuska-Susitna Borough may gain a House seat, while the Fairbanks area and Southeast Alaska may lose the equivalent of half a seat.

Doug Wooliver, deputy administrative director of the Alaska Court System, participated in the selection process and said the goal was to “find someone that appears to be fairly evenhanded” and capable of understanding “all of the complicated aspects of the redistricting process.”

“Her name came up from several different people as someone who was really smart and on the ball, and of course, she had to be from the Second District,” Wooliver said, referring to the constitutional clause that requires at least one redistricting board member from each of the state’s four judicial districts.

Bahnke said she offered alternate options to the court system, but the chief justice ended up calling her, and she felt she had an obligation to serve once selected.

Bolger was required to select someone from western or northern Alaska after Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, had picked the other four members of the board. According to the constitution, the chief justice makes the final selection.

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