Facing five lawsuits, Alaska redistricting board members clash on organization

A member of Alaska’s five-person redistricting board accused the board’s three Republican-appointed members of “naked partisanship” on Wednesday as the board organized itself to face five lawsuits filed by discontented Alaskans.

In a contentious public meeting, board members Melanie Bahnke and Nicole Borromeo objected to the appointment of fellow board members John Binkley and Budd Simpson to a subcommittee that will guide the board’s legal defense. Both were appointed by elected Republicans and were nominated by Bethany Marcum, another Republican-appointed board member.

“Talk about naked partisanship. This is why I said the emperor has no clothes,” Bahnke said.

Bahnke said Simpson and Borromeo — both attorneys — were best suited for the job. Marcum said Borromeo’s opposition to the board’s map of Senate districts — the topic of one lawsuit — made her an illogical choice.

Bahnke and Borromeo appeared concerned about the possibility that the other three board members could seek to deliberately delay legal proceedings for political advantage.

“Any delay on the part of the board to slow down the litigation process, I’m going to be watching for as a board member,” Borromeo said.

In a phone call after the meeting, she declined to elaborate.


Bahnke also declined to discuss her concerns, saying only, “I do hope the litigation is speedy so people can meet the deadline to file for office and hold an election.”

After this article’s initial publication, she said on social media, “I absolutely love that I am not beholden to any one party in this process. I can speak my mind and my heart. I’m beholden to all Alaskans.”

The redistricting board is in charge of the once-per-decade job of redrawing legislative districts to account for changes in population.

The board’s work has been challenged legally in every redistricting cycle since the first, in 1970.

[Fifth lawsuit against redistricting board seeks new House boundaries in Southwest Alaska]

This year’s challenges have been combined into a single case, and a scheduling hearing is set for Dec. 20. The deadline for candidates to file for office is June 1, and legal proceedings must be finished well before then to allow a normal election.

Following the 2010 census, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled the board’s initial map unconstitutional, but it allowed an interim map to stand during the 2012 election.

In that election, Republicans swept into control of the state House, Senate and governor’s office, winning control of both halves of the Legislature for the first time since 2006.

After the election, the Alaska Supreme Court again required the board to redo its work, and the resulting map was used in the 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020 legislative elections.

Last month, Bahnke and Borromeo criticized the other three board members for voting in favor of state Senate districts that join portions of East Anchorage with Eagle River.

Preliminary analysis indicates the pairing will result in two Republican-leaning Senate districts. If the East Anchorage districts were joined together and the Eagle River districts were joined together, the result would be one Democratic-leaning district and one firmly Republican district. A similar pairing is in place now.

“I pray litigation is swift and just,” Borromeo said at the time, and one of the five lawsuits filed against the board does challenge the Senate pairing. The other four lawsuits deal with House district boundaries supported by Borromeo, Simpson, Binkley and Bahnke.

Marcum said Simpson and Binkley should advise attorney Matt Singer because both voted in favor of the final House and Senate maps.

“That is one of the reasons I think member Simpson and member Binkley are the most logical choices,” she said.

Borromeo is the top lawyer for the Alaska Federation of Natives, and both she and Bahnke unsuccessfully argued that she and Simpson — a Juneau attorney — should serve on the litigation subcommittee.

“Just because I voted a certain way shouldn’t disqualify me from offering my legal expertise,” she said.

The other three members didn’t agree and voted in favor of Binkley and Simpson, causing Bahnke to accuse them of partisanship.


“I don’t think it’s a requirement or necessary or even important that the committee be exclusively attorneys,” Binkley said.

“I think that general knowledge is important,” he said.

Binkley, father to the owners of the Anchorage Daily News, did not return a call seeking comment.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.