Democrats sue Redistricting Board over new map

Multiple maps were available during the last public comment period.
Multiple versions of maps were considered during the last public comment period.

A new lawsuit has been filed against the state redistricting board. This time, it’s by the Alaska Democratic Party.

In a couple of ways, the redistricting process is sort of like solving a Rubik’s Cube: It can be really frustrating, and every time you try to fix a part, you run the risk of messing up something else.

From the perspective of the Alaska Democratic Party, the map used for the last election was:

McKinnon: Outrageous.

But the newest version?

McKinnon: Is just bad.

Joe McKinnon is the party’s attorney. He says that while the redistricting board’s newest map solves some constitutional problems, it creates a few others. That’s why the party — along with Katie Hurley and Warren Keogh — filed a lawsuit against the board on Tuesday. There’s already another group based in Fairbanks that’s suing the board for different reasons concerning the Senate pairings of certain districts, and it’s possible this new lawsuit could be rolled in with that one.

McKinnon says his clients have a handful of concerns with the new map. They think the board, which is mostly made up of Republicans, took extra voters from the conservative Mat-Su region to make other seats more secure for their party.

“The Mat-Su has exactly enough population for five seats, and yet the board only put four seats within the borough and then split the other population, putting part in with Valdez and then part in with Anchorage.”

McKinnon says the way the lines were drawn in the Kenai Peninsula and Fairbanks are similarly problematic. He also says the state’s rural districts should have been better drawn to match Native corporation boundaries.

Now, McKinnon wants the courts to say the redistricting board has had enough chances to produce a constitutional map.

“The remedy we want is for the court to draw the final map, to appoint a master.”

Michael White is the redistricting board’s attorney, and he thinks the lawsuit is being brought more for political reasons than constitutional ones.

“I guess if I’m a betting man, I would say what they’re trying to do is blow up the plan with anything they possibly can in the hopes that they would get a master appointed, and that would somehow benefit the Democrats.”

White says he was surprised that the Democrats filed their own suit against the redistricting board, and that he doesn’t think their case has any merit. When it comes to the Mat-Su region, he says the decision to take some population from that area was necessary to pad surrounding districts that didn’t have enough voters.

“It isn’t just a simple matter of ‘Let’s draw this in isolation.’ There’s a ripple effect that you have whenever you move a single person — you start moving several hundred people.”

White adds that he doesn’t see basis for a complaint about rural districts. The map the redistricting board adopted was partially based on a plan offered by Calista, an Alaska Native corporation.

“If they don’t match Alaska Native lines, how come there is not a single Alaska Native interest that is making a challenge?”

The redistricting board is arguing that all legal challenges against the redistricting board be dismissed.

The courts are hearing the lawsuits on an expedited basis in an effort to finalize the state’s political boundaries before the 2014 election. It’s been three years since the redistricting process first started.

This story has been updated to include comment from the redistricting board.

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