JUNEAU — A state court judge has said a majority of members on the board tasked with redrawing Alaska’s political boundaries appeared to have adopted a map that splits the Eagle River area into two Senate districts for “political reasons,” and he ordered a new map to be used this year.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews in a decision made public late Monday ordered the Alaska Redistricting Board to adopt on an interim basis a map that in part pairs the Eagle River area House districts into a Senate district. The decision comes in a second round of redistricting challenges. The map that the judge ordered be adopted was the other option the board had considered when weighing a revised map.
Matthews said he expected a quick review of his decision by the Alaska Supreme Court. The candidate filing deadline for the August primary is June 1.
The Supreme Court in March found constitutional issues with elements of a map drawn by the board last fall. In one of the instances, the court ruled that a state Senate district pairing part of east Anchorage and the Eagle River area constituted an “unconstitutional political gerrymander.”
The board then went back to work. The revised plan it adopted in a 3-2 vote last month prompted the latest challenges, which focused on the board’s decision to link part of the Eagle River area with south Anchorage and Girdwood for a Senate district and another part of the Eagle River area to an area that includes Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, known as JBER, for another Senate district. The board members who voted in favor were appointed by Republicans.
In Alaska, each state Senate district is made up of two state House districts.
Peter Torkelson, the board’s executive director, in a statement Tuesday said the interim option Matthews ordered adopted would deny “JBER voters their equal protection rights under the Constitution.” Torkelson said the board will seek an expedited review of the decision by the state Supreme Court.
Matthews’ decision came in response to a challenge filed by Girdwood area residents.
Attorneys for the Girdwood area plaintiffs had argued there was “substantial public testimony” against pairing part of the Eagle River area with South Anchorage, Girdwood and Whittier.
Girdwood residents were among those who testified “that the pairing made no sense, was untenable, that the two areas were politically, culturally, and economically different, and that the pairing would benefit Eagle River only while depriving Girdwood of its voice,” the attorneys said in court documents.
Matthews wrote that when the matter was sent back to the board, the “majority of the Board appears to have assumed it could reach the same result - two reliably conservative senate seats for Eagle River - if only it submitted the senate pairings to additional public comment, regardless of what the public actually preferred.”
The judge said he found the board “intentionally discriminated against the communities of Girdwood and South Anchorage in order to maximize senate representation for Eagle River and the Republican party.”
Matthews denied a motion from East Anchorage plaintiffs who had challenged the original plan and urged rejection of the latest plan. Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they had already shown that the board improperly split the Eagle River area and did not have to keep proving that point.
But Matthews said in weighing a decision it was important for him to look at how the process to revise the maps played out. He urged the plaintiffs to review his order in the Girdwood case.