Despite previous grousing over the Alaska Supreme Court’s decisions, the Alaska Redistricting Board voted unanimously today to follow the court’s latest ruling and approved revised Anchorage-area Senate districts for the 2022 election.
The revised Anchorage-area Senate map does away with what critics said was an attempt to boost Eagle River Republicans’ influence in the Legislature, essentially repeating the gerrymander identified by the courts in the original round of litigation. The Alaska Supreme Court today found the board “again engaged in unconstitutional political gerrymandering to increase one group’s voting power at the expense of others.”
With the June 1 candidate filing deadline a week away, the Alaska Supreme Court approved Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews’ unusual step of ordering the board to adopt a specific alternative, known as Option 2 (the board’s conservatives adopted 3B).
“The board presumably believed option 2 fulfilled constitutional requirements, or it would not have adopted it for public presentation and consideration for a proclamation,” the Alaska Supreme Court said of the option they ordered to be adopted. “We are about a week short of June 1 and the board has made no known effort to prepare or present to us an interim plan other than option 2.”
It’s not immediately clear what will happen after the 2022 elections.
The Alaska Redistricting Board’s swift approval of the court-ordered fix wasn’t a given. Following the Alaska Supreme Court’s orders from the original round of redistricting litigation, board chair John Binkley accused the court of being “very inconsistent” and voted against resolving a clear-cut issue with the so-called “Cantwell Carveout.” At that hearing, he suggested there might be other ways for the board to address the court’s ruling but was shot down by everyone involved.
However unhappy they were to see their work labeled as another partisan gerrymander, the board’s conservative members—Binkley and members Bethany Marcum and Budd Simpson—didn’t suggest anything other than following the Alaska Supreme Court’s order at today’s hearing.
“Simply out of respect for the authority of the court,” Simpson said. “I intend to support the motion.”
Marcum, who was the key architect behind the Anchorage-area Senate maps, was more blunt in her disappointment. She called it a “travesty” that the voters in the JBER and Government Hill district would be paired with the liberal voters in Downtown Anchorage.
“It’s ironic that those who have given the most to secure our freedoms—our uniformed service members—are having their voice taken away,” she said. “Hopefully this travesty can be rectified.”
The representation of the military voters was the foundation of the board’s latest map that maintained the Republican advantage by splitting Eagle River into two Senate districts. They argued, largely without evidence, that the military voters fit best with the deeply conservative Eagle River voters, worrying both in public statements and private emails that anything else would advantage Democrats.
Neither Judge Matthews nor the Alaska Supreme Court found the arguments convincing, finding that the fairest pairings were ones that kept Eagle River together, South Anchorage together and East Anchorage together. The JBER district is set to be paired with the liberal Downtown Anchorage district.
Board members Nicole Borromeo and Melanie Bahnke, who voted against the board’s conservatives and in favor of the map that the Alaska Supreme Court ultimately ordered be adopted, were largely reserved in their comments today, especially when compared to the bitter exchange over the weekend.
“I’m just really grateful that we have some clear guidance from the Supreme Court and grateful that it’s very clear here this time what we’ve got to do,” Bahnke said.
Whether it’s the end of the line isn’t entirely clear, however.
While Judge Matthews had ordered the board to adopt a specific map for the 2022 election, he had left the door open for further revisions to the maps that would impact the rest of the decade. It appears that part was put on hold, at least for now, by the Alaska Supreme Court.
Just what the hold means wasn’t immediately clear to even the board’s counsel, Matt Singer, who said “We have to guess a little bit as to what the court meant on that last part.” Singer said it’s likely they’ll know more once a full decision from the Alaska Supreme Court explaining its rationale is published at a later date. He conceded it’s possible that this interim map may become the final one for the rest of the decade but advised they label this one as “interim” for now.
As far as the 2022 election is concerned, the map is now fully locked in.