Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Alaska Redistricting Board Caught Between A State "Rock" And A Federal "Hard Place"

In response to a Alaska Supreme Court order which upheld Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy's ruling that Alaska House Districts 1, 2, 37 and 38 violated the Alaska State Constitution as drawn, the Alaska Redistricting Board released a new plan on March 27th, 2012 which leaves House and Senate district boundaries in Anchorage, South Central, Southeast and the North Slope in place and redraws boundaries only for districts with constitutional complaints.

In the new plan, parts of Ester and Goldstream Valley still remain peeled off to prop up population in an Interior rural district, but the area has now been added to the newly-drawn House District 37, which engulfs the Fairbanks North Star Borough much like the former House District 6.

Elsewhere in the Fairbanks area, districts in the city of Fairbanks have been consolidated into simpler districts after one of the districts was thrown out for being non-compact. The North Pole district (House District 4) has been extended to include much of the eastern areas of the Fairbanks North Star Borough south of the Chena River and Chena Hot Springs Road. The Chena Ridge district (not given a number on the map) now wraps around south of Fairbanks to include Salcha. In addition, two Fairbanks House districts have been rejoined into one Senate seat.

The yellow is District 37; full state map HERE

Upon completion, Taylor Bickford, the board’s executive director, said “We used the template for all versions of the plan that were unchallenged — in areas we believe we already followed the Hickel process. We believe this plan complies with the constitution.” And so the new plan was sent to the board’s Voting Rights Act expert, Lisa Handley

But on March 28th, Handley gave it a thumbs down. She said House District 37 doesn’t have enough Alaska Native voting age population (VAP). At only 33.26 percent, it is far below the requirement of a target percentage of 42.8 percent Alaska Native VAP for Native voters to effectively decide elections. The requirement for Native race manipulation in this case is set forth in the federal Voting Rights Act, which requires nine states and sections of five other states to obtain federal "preclearance" of redistricting plans.

Deviation from the state constitution is authorized only if no other way can be found to comply with federal law. But this just illustrates how the Alaska Redistricting Board is caught between a state "rock" and a federal "hard place". The primary villain here is the federal government and the Voting Rights Act, which assumes discrimination will take place and demands Alaska deliberately stack the deck. The federal government presumes any disparate racial outcome to be attributable to discrimination as they seek to create a society where every nook and cranny is equally kaleidoscopic rather than respect freedom of association by people. Since the Alaska State Constitution forbids voter discrimination, this problem could have been resolved much more quickly and less expensively without federal interference.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner now editorially criticizes the Redistricting Board's efforts, noting that it is mystifying to place a few Fairbanks neighborhoods in the same House district with far-flung rural villages as Shageluk, Arctic Village and McCarthy, but even they acknowledge the federal government to be the real problem, writing "It’s abundantly clear the federal Voting Rights Act wreaks havoc with our constitution’s requirements. It forces the state to consider district boundaries that are not compact and that are not socially or economically integrated".

What happens if this isn't resolved before election day? The Supreme Court, in its decision, said that if the board is unable to draft a plan that complies with its order in time for this year’s elections, it can petition for an order that the elections be conducted under the plan as an interim plan.

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