New legislative lines in Alaska, redistricting

Photos Courtesy of The Alaska Redistricting Board

The United States Census does more than inform people about the population we have in our borders; the data it provides plays a key role in redistricting on both a state and local level.

Redistricting is the process of redrawing legislative borders, which effect voting and representation. Redistricting happens every 10 years, like the Census.

The Census data wasn’t complete until March 2011, according to Taylor Bickford, the Executive Director of the Alaska Redistricting Board, which is when the board began working on redistricting.

“The board actually started meeting before the Census results were in, you know, to start preparing for it. We went to trainings together, had some preliminary board meetings. But, once the Census numbers are in, we schedule meetings immediately,” he said. “The state constitution has a timeline, and it says that a draft plan has to be adopted within 30 days after the Census numbers have been received, and the final plan has to be adopted within 90 days after the Census data has been received.”

Redistricting is done so legislative boundaries better reflect the population and demographic changes happening over time. This helps the state and local governments comply with the One Person, One Vote standard put forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Baker v. Carr & Reynolds v. Sims. According to the Alaska Redistricting website, meaning, “legislative seats must be apportioned exclusively on the basis of population and the populations of the respective legislative districts must be substantially equal.”

Through Section Five of the Equal Voting Rights Act, Alaska is also required to redistrict with another variable in mind, our Alaska Native population. Redistricting cannot minimize or negatively affect the voting rights of that demographic. Along with eight other states, Alaska must submit its redistricting plans to the U.S. Justice Department for approval, in addition to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Despite getting federal approval for the board’s first redistricting plan, local backlash prompted the board to develop a new plan to better represent the state’s best interests, according to Bickford.

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“What happened is that we had lawsuits on the state level; every redistricting plan in the state’s history has been litigated, and has been sued, and the courts have always asked for some change,” he said.

The new plan was approved by the Justice Department on Wednesday, June 27, and has been approved on the state level as well, making it legal to use in the state primary, which is scheduled for Tuesday, August 28.

Anchorage Voter Districts (Courtesy of Alaska Redistricting Board)

While Alaska’s population has grown by approximately 83,299 people from 2000 to 2010, that growth has been focused in urban areas such as Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Mat-Su Valley areas. Mat-Su, for instance, grew in population by a little over 17,755, making it necessary to add a district to the area.

Districts are different in regards to the Anchorage Assembly, and redistricting in that capacity is done by the Assembly’s Redistricting Committee after the state goes through its process.

Relatively little has changed in Anchorage itself. According to Dick Traini, an Anchorage Assembly member and chairman of the Assembly’s Redistricting Committee, the largest population fluxes in Anchorage have happened in two districts in East and South Anchorage. Despite this, lines for the entire city will be redrawn to reflect population changes so the Anchorage Assembly members still represent equal amounts of the population.

“If you look at District Five and District Six, the difference between the two of them is about 10.5 percent; the federal standard is a 10 percent deviation, so we’ve got to redistrict to bring us into compliance,” said Traini. “I don’t think you’re going to see any remarkable changes. What we’re going to do, like we’ve done before, is take a few lines, and move a few hundred people, from one side to the other.”

Redistricting for Anchorage hasn’t happened yet. But, when the process begins, there will be a notice posted on the municipality’s website so interested residents can attend the meetings.

“What we’ll do is we’ll put notices up where we’ll have the meetings so that the public can come and attend them. We’ll have work sessions where we’ll discuss this, and the public is always welcome to them,” he said.