Alaska’s five-person redistribution council on Thursday approved two first draft maps, unanimously adopting them and closing the first stage of the Alaska redistribution process once a decade.
By November 10, the board of directors is due to approve a final draft that will define the boundaries of the Alaska State House and Senate seats.
This map will almost certainly be the subject of a legal challenge and Alaska Supreme Court ruling, and the result will set the limits of political fighting for the next decade.
Over the next week, the council will accept input from the public before starting a series of statewide town halls to gather comments. Comments can also be submitted on the District Councils website, akredistrict.org.
This is a dynamic process, one where it will evolve and change as we get feedback from the public, what they see in these maps and the opinions of other peoples, said the chairman of the redistribution board, John Binkley.
The mapping process doesn’t stop for the board either, just because we’ve collectively adopted two versions, said Board member Nicole Borromeo. I will continue to map, and hopefully the rest of the board will continue to map as well.
Council staff initially said the draft maps would not be available to the public for 24 to 48 hours, but after inquiries from the Daily News, they made copies available on their website.
Alaska is required by federal and state law to redraw legislative districts after each U.S. census to account for population gains and losses in different parts of the state.
The most populous states must reallocate their seats in the US House. In Alaska, only legislative districts are being redesigned and the task falls to a five-person council whose members are appointed by the Governor, Speaker of the House, Speaker of the Senate and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Alaska.
We started with a blank slate based on population changes, Binkley said. And so these are brand new maps for Alaskans to check out. And it’s really based on what those population changes have been like over the past 10 years.
Council on Thursday agreed on most of the boundaries across the state, but could not agree on the boundary between the Borough of Matanuska-Susitna and the Municipality of Anchorage.
Rather than deal with the matter now, the board members decided to endorse two different ideas and get some feedback.
On a map, a legislative district that begins at Chugiak-Eagle River extends north to the Knik River. In the other, it stops at the border between the boroughs of Mat-Su and Anchorage.
This geographically small difference has ripple effects throughout Anchorage, shifting the block boundaries in different directions. Both maps stop their southernmost neighborhood at the southern boundary of the municipality.
Alaska’s constitution discourages gerrymandering, the practice of drawing sprawling districts for the benefit of a political party. It stipulates that the districts should be a contiguous and compact territory containing as much as possible a relatively integrated socio-economic zone.
Council members disagreed on Thursday on whether Anchorage and Mat-Su are integrated or whether districts should stop at borough boundaries, as they agreed they should take place in Fairbanks.
Right now, Fairbanks has five State House seats within its boundaries and includes part of a sixth. In the projects approved Thursday, the council placed five seats entirely within the borough boundaries.
According to census figures, the ideal legislative constituency should have 18,335 inhabitants. To fit the five districts in the Fairbanks Borough, each is slightly above this number.
I would say I’m concerned, said Randy Ruedrich of Alaskans for Fair and Equitable Redistricting, a Republican-linked group that has been involved in redistribution for decades.
Joelle Hall of Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, a group backed by unions, nonprofits and Indigenous organizations, also called Fairbanks’ decision strange.
In previous redistribution cycles, Ruedrich favored constituencies closer to the ideal figure, to better follow the criterion of one person, one vote. In districts with fewer people, each voter has more power.
His group has already submitted a draft proposal to the redistribution board, and he said he could submit another.
Hall and Ruedrich both said public testimony is important because when a final card is ultimately considered by the courts, all suggestions are available to the judges.
So it creates a better process if you participate, said Ruedrich. And this applies to all 733,000 Alaskans and over.
In both map projects, the North Slope and Northwestern Arctic Borough share a district, and population growth in Southwest Alaska has enabled the creation of a district that runs along the Bering Sea coast.
This district currently stretches inland, but map projects shift the border westward, allowing for the creation of a vast interior headquarters that encompasses most of the Doyon Native Corp. area, hooks around Fairbanks and ending in Valdez.
Council members indicated during the discussion that they are not certain whether Valdez should be included in the large Interior District, kept in a district linked to the Matanuska-Susitna district, or the Treaty of another way.
Southeast Alaska retains its current four House seats, but the boundaries are redrawn so that one of those seats now extends from Yakutat south along the outer coast through Sitka , Prince of Wales Island and Metlakatla. Juneau retains its two seats in the House, and Ketchikan is linked with Petersburg and Wrangell.