Alaska redistricting board plans appeal

Becky Bohrer
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
February 7, 2012

JUNEAU, Alaska - The Alaska Redistricting Board on Tuesday decided on a partial appeal of a judge's decision that they redraw four House districts.

The board decided to challenge state court Judge Michael McConahy's ruling that commissioners redraw House Districts 37 and 38. The board is not challenging his ruling that it redraw House Districts 1 and 2.

Last week, McConahy ruled that those four House Districts as drawn are unconstitutional. House Districts 1, 2 and 38 are in the Fairbanks area, with 1 and 2 urban districts and 38 parts urban and rural, stretching from Fairbanks to the Bering Sea. House District 37 splits the Aleutian chain.

Board Chairman John Torgerson said in a release that the board believes "the fix to House Districts 1 and 2 will be relatively straightforward." Issues of compactness, which relates to the shape of a district, were raised with both areas. Torgerson said the board will address those issues after the Alaska S upreme Court makes its ruling.

The board's executive director, Taylor Bickford, said the board respects the work McConahy put into the decision but believes his conclusions on House Districts 37 and 38 are based on "significant factual and legal errors."

"We are also concerned that the fix he has asked for would lead to more violations of the Alaska Constitution and would require the board to dilute Alaska Native voting strength statewide," he said in an email.

Under the federal voting rights law, Alaska's redistricting plan cannot weaken the Alaska Native community's ability to elect candidates of their choosing. The board needed at least nine districts in which a Native or Native-backed candidate is likely to be elected to maintain the seats held by those candidates after the 2000 redistricting

McConahy found House District 37 violated constitutional requirements for compactness and contiguity. He found House District 38 violated the constitutional requirem ent of socio-economic integration.

The board redrew Alaska's political boundaries, based on results of the 2010 census. The plan was challenged by Fairbanks-area residents George Riley and Ron Dearborn. A message was left for their attorney.

The judge upheld the board's handling of House Districts 5, 6 and 32, and Senate Districts A, B and C, Bickford said.