Politics

East Anchorage residents again challenge map of Anchorage state senate districts

Alaska Supreme Court, redistricting

Three East Anchorage residents are again challenging a proposed map of state Senate districts in Anchorage, saying in a new legal filing that the proposal unconstitutionally benefits Eagle River.

Submitted Monday, the filing arrived as Anchorage Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews considers the legality of a Senate map approved by Alaska’s five-member redistricting board last week.

It wasn’t immediately clear when Matthews will issue an order on the topic.

Each of Alaska’s Senate districts is made up of two adjacent House districts. The new map, which links south Eagle River to south Anchorage and north Eagle River to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, was drawn after the board’s first proposal was ruled unconstitutional by the Alaska Supreme Court.

That original proposal sought to link south Eagle River to south Muldoon, an act the Supreme Court called an “unconstitutional political gerrymander.”

The court ruled in March after Felisa Wilson, George Martinez, and Yarrow Silvers filed suit, and the same three people filed Monday’s challenge.

In their new filing, they say the redistricting board incorrectly interpreted judges’ instructions by keeping Muldoon districts together but continuing to split the Eagle River districts.

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“As a result, the board preserved, and in many ways exacerbated, the unconstitutional political gerrymander rejected by this court,” the filing states.

The filing asks for an order requiring the board to pair both Eagle River state House districts together.

The redistricting board’s executive director, Peter Torkelson, said the board stands by its decision.

“We believe the board complied with the remand court order and will be filing a response to the East Anchorage motion soon,” he said.

In a brief order after Monday’s filing, Matthews asked the board to notify him immediately if any further challenges are filed.

Matthews is working under a short timeline to analyze the redistricting board’s new map; the deadline for candidates to enter this year’s legislative races is June 1, and some candidates have been waiting to file until the legislative map is final.

If Matthews approves the board’s map, it could end the redistricting saga that began with the 2020 Census. If he rejects the map, he could order the board to redo its work or enable the court system to draw a final map.

In either case, there would be significant consequences for state politics.

While each state House district has roughly the same number of people, JBER residents vote at much lower rates than those in Eagle River. If JBER remains paired with northern Eagle River, Republican-leaning Eagle River residents are likely to determine who is elected to the Senate in that district.

The alternative pairing sought by the plaintiffs would join JBER to downtown Anchorage, which would result in a Democratic-leaning Senate seat.

In the other half of the pairing, leaving south Eagle River paired with south Anchorage would force incumbent Republican Sens. Lora Reinbold and Roger Holland to run against each other this fall. Former Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel has also filed to run in that district.

If the two Eagle River districts are paired together, Reinbold would be the lone incumbent in a strongly Republican district. Holland and Giessel would face each other in a Republican-leaning South Anchorage pairing.

James Brooks

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

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