JUNEAU — The board in charge of drawing Alaska’s new legislative districts will decide a final map of Anchorage state Senate seats next week, according to a schedule adopted Wednesday.
The board’s first choice for a state Senate map in Anchorage was ruled unconstitutional by the Alaska Supreme Court in late March, and the board’s five members agreed Wednesday to adopt two proposals and open them for public comment.
Known as Option 2 and Option 3B, the plans could significantly affect the makeup of the Alaska Senate because of the way they handle Eagle River.
The Alaska Democratic Party is urging testimony in favor of Option 2, saying on social media that the alternative would turn a tossup district into a Republican-leaning one. Current and former Republican officials have testified in favor of Option 3B during open sessions.
Each state Senate district is made of two adjacent House districts, and Option 2 would join the two Eagle River state House districts together.
Option 3B would join the state House district covering south Eagle River with the one covering South Anchorage and Girdwood via their shared boundary in the Chugach Mountains.
The decision will have an impact on this year’s legislative elections. The deadline for a candidate to register is June 1, and until the board decides state Senate boundaries, candidates do not know where they can run. Some boundaries could force incumbents to run against each other or run in districts with different political leanings.
Option 3B, for example, would force incumbent Republican Sens. Roger Holland and Lora Reinbold to run against each other. Former state Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, has already signed up to challenge Holland — she lost to him in 2020 — and would also run in the district.
Option 2 would put Reinbold in the same district as incumbent Republican Reps. Ken McCarty and Kelly Merrick. Both McCarty and Merrick have signed up to run for the Senate.
Merrick said she has not seen the two proposals, and McCarty declined to comment. Reinbold said she has not thoroughly examined the districts.
Giessel said she prefers Option 2, calling it a “very elegant solution.”
In November, the redistricting board proposed linking south Eagle River with Muldoon, but that pairing was challenged by area residents and overturned by a Superior Court judge and by the Alaska Supreme Court, which said it “constituted an unconstitutional political gerrymander violating equal protection under the Alaska Constitution.”
Public hearings are planned for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with testimony collected in person, by phone and Zoom, and by email. A full schedule and instructions have been posted on the board’s website, akredistrict.org.
Also on Wednesday, the board agreed on a redrawn state House map for Interior Alaska covering Cantwell, a town on the Parks Highway.
In November, the board added a finger-like extension to House District 36 in order to place Cantwell in that district, which represents much of the rural Interior. The Supreme Court said that decision “renders House District 36 noncompact without adequate justification.”
Under the Alaska Supreme Court, compactness is a key criterion for drawing House districts.
The new boundaries approved Wednesday follow the borders of the Matanuska-Susitna and Denali boroughs and the Parks Highway.
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews has set an April 15 deadline for the board to provide a status update on both the Cantwell issue and the Anchorage Senate map.
Board members have said they intend to resolve both issues in time to submit modified maps to Matthews by that date.