Judge sets April 15 deadline for Alaska Redistricting Board to fix gerrymandering

Following the Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling last week on Alaska’s redistricting plan, Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews has set an April 15 for the Alaska Redistricting Board to update the maps.

The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed Judge Matthews’ ruling that found the Alaska Redistricting Board had committed an unconstitutional political gerrymander by creating a state Senate district from a swingy East Anchorage House district and a deeply conservative Eagle River House district. The Supreme Court also separately found that the so-called Cantwell Carveout, which separated the Cantwell community from the Denali Borough to join in with the rural Interior district, was unconstitutional and ordered its removal.

The Alaska Redistricting Board scheduled a hearing for 2 p.m. Saturday, but it’s not yet clear whether they’ll adopt new plans or schedule another one sometime in the next two weeks. The agenda for the meeting includes public testimony, a review of the Supreme Court’s decision and discussion. It does not specifically mention efforts to adopt new maps. The filing deadline for state office is June 1.

Neither change should take a significant amount of time or processing power to complete.

The Cantwell Carveout was one of the late-in-the-game decisions made by the board and was done to incorporate testimony from Ahtna, Inc. The Alaska Native corporation had requested Cantwell, which is home to its shareholders, be relocated from the Denali Borough to the rural Interior district where the much of the other shareholders live. The board complied, arguing that even though it reduced the districts’ compactness it acceptable because it was in service of increasing socioeconomic integration.

The Alaska Supreme Court struck it down, noting the board had prioritized compactness over socioeconomic in other areas—specifically in the Skagway/Juneau maps—and that the appendage could be eliminated without significant shakeups elsewhere because the population of 200 people is relatively small and would actually improve the rural Interior district’s deviation from the ideal population.

The court’s full decision and its long-term impact on redistricting decisions is expected at a later date.

That ruling will be interesting to see its reasoning on why it found the Alaska Redistricting Board’s decision on the East Anchorage Senate pairings—which were supported only by its trio of conservatives, one of whom said on the record that it could increase the deeply red Eagle River’s representation in Juneau—was a partisan gerrymander. At issue there is whether opponents of redistricting plans can infer intent on gerrymandering or if more evidence is needed, such the on-the-record statements from the board. If it’s the latter the board members would need to be more careful about what they say in the future but in the near-term, it means they have to rework Anchorage’s state Senate districts.

Previously, members Nicole Borromeo and Melanie Bahnke—who opposed the group’s conservative majority on the Anchorage Senate pairing—have argued that addressing the Senate pairings ought to be a simple and quick task, noting that members have already conceded that Bahnke’s alternative would be acceptable.

For the record, here’s Bahnke’s proposal for Anchorage Senate pairings:

And here’s what the board approved and is now invalid:

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