Alaska Legislature

3 more lawsuits filed against Alaska’s new legislative redistricting plan

Two Alaska cities and a group of Anchorage residents filed separate lawsuits against Alaska’s five-member redistricting board on Friday, challenging new political boundaries drawn by the board.

Friday was the deadline to file lawsuits challenging the once-per-decade process of redrawing legislative districts to account for changes in population. The board in charge of redistricting finished its work last month.

The three lawsuits filed Friday are in addition to one filed by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough last week that challenges the way the board drew boundaries for state House districts in and around the borough.

• Anchorage residents Felisa Wilson, George Martinez and Yarrow Silvers say in their lawsuit that the board improperly and illegally drew state Senate districts that join East Anchorage neighborhoods with Eagle River.

“The board’s process and actions magnified the political influence of Eagle River in the Alaska Senate while diluting the influence of voters in Anchorage’s most diverse, yet unified communities of interest, in violation of the Alaska Constitution, Alaska statutes and basic tenets of equity and fairness,” the lawsuit says.

• The city of Valdez said in its lawsuit that it disagrees with being placed in a state House district that stretches from Valdez to the Mat-Su. The city says Valdez is economically tied to communities along the Richardson Highway instead.

• In Southeast Alaska, the city of Skagway sued over the redistricting board’s decision to put it into a district that includes Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley. Skagway argues that it has closer ties with downtown Juneau, which is in a separate district.

Peter Torkelson, the board’s executive director, declined to comment on the lawsuits, citing the advice of attorneys.

The decision to join Eagle River and Anchorage was contentious. It would join predominantly white Eagle River legislative districts with East Anchorage districts that are some of the most ethnically diverse in the nation, as judged by the U.S. census. The result would be two Republican-leaning state Senate districts.

At the time of the decision, two of the board’s five members said the choice would leave the board open to accusations of political gerrymandering, and the lawsuit makes that specific allegation.

The suit asks for a legal order declaring those districts illegal, an injunction preventing the state of Alaska from using those Senate districts, and an order requiring the redistricting board to redraw the Senate district boundaries.

In addition to the new lawsuits filed Friday, a coalition of Native corporations and organizations in Interior Alaska filed a legal motion on Friday to oppose the Mat-Su lawsuit and join the redistricting board as defendants.

The coalition, headed by the regional Native corporation Doyon Ltd. and including other regional Native corporations, has supported the creation of a large Interior state House district that would join Doyon shareholders together. If Mat-Su’s arguments win in court, that would not be possible.

Lawsuits are a regular part of Alaska’s once-per-decade redistricting process, which is intended to redefine political boundaries to account for changes in population as recorded by the U.S. census. In every redistricting process since 1970, the result has been challenged in court.

The presiding judges of Alaska’s four judicial districts said in November that they intend to consolidate all redistricting lawsuits into a single case.

Under the court system’s normal procedure, a superior court judge will hear the case first, and the losing parties will have an opportunity to appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court. At least one case has been appealed to the Supreme Court in each redistricting cycle since 1970.

A schedule for legal arguments has not been set.

Several incumbent state legislators have said they are postponing re-election decisions until the resolution of the lawsuits. The deadline to enter a legislative race is June 1.

In one prior redistricting lawsuit, the Alaska Supreme Court postponed that deadline to allow time for candidates to adjust their plans after a lawsuit.

The redistricting board has scheduled a meeting for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the pending lawsuits.

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