Alaska Redistricting Board chooses final Senate map despite gerrymandering allegation

Alaska Redistricting Board member Bethany Marcum, chair John Binkley and member Nicole Borromeo speak during a board meeting on Nov. 9, 2021, in the board office in Anchorage. The board adopted the final Senate map during the meeting. (Zoom screen capture)
Alaska Redistricting Board member Bethany Marcum (left) and chair John Binkley listen as member Nicole Borromeo speaks during a board meeting on Tuesday in the board office in Anchorage. The board adopted the final Senate map during the meeting. (Zoom screen capture)

The Alaska Redistricting Board adopted a final Senate map on Tuesday. But before it did, board member Nicole Borromeo criticized the map and opposed adopting it. 

“I believe it opens the board up to an unfortunate and very easily winnable argument to partisan gerrymandering,” she said.

She criticized board member Bethany Marcum’s proposals included in the final map, singling out a district stretching from downtown Eagle River to the South Muldoon neighborhood of Anchorage more than seven miles away. 

South Muldoon is more racially diverse than Eagle River, and Borromeo and fellow board member Melanie Bahnke expressed concern that the voting strength of racial minorities would be weakened by combining the neighborhood with Eagle River. 

The map was approved by the three members appointed by Republican elected officials. 

On Friday, the board adopted a House map for Anchorage that Borromeo proposed. But as it paired House districts to form Senate districts on Tuesday, the argument became intense.

Borromeo pointed to a statement by Marcum on Monday that Eagle River would receive more representation in the map. Borromeo called for reconsidering the vote adopting the map. 

Marcum had emphasized public testimony about the ties between Eagle River and the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson area and between Eagle River and Muldoon in supporting the two Eagle River Senate districts. 

But Borromeo said public testimony favored a different map for the area.

Borromeo’s reconsideration request was defeated, 3 to 2. 

Marcum and board member E. Budd Simpson were appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Binkley was appointed by former Senate President Cathy Giessel, also a Republican. Borromeo was appointed by former House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, an independent nominated by the Democrats. And Bahnke was appointed by former Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger. 

Binkley, Marcum and Simpson voted for the final Anchorage Senate map, while Borromeo and Bahnke voted against it. Bahnke said the final map was a “complete surprise,” adding that she thought they had reached a consensus on a different map.

The final map is different from what the majority of board members supported on Monday. Democratic Senators Tom Begich and Elvi Gray-Jackson will no longer be put in the same district. The final map also places Republican Sen. Josh Revak in a more Republican district than what the majority backed on Monday. 

The midtown Anchorage House district he lives in is now combined with part of the Anchorage Hillside rather than with the district that includes the University of Alaska Anchorage and nearby hospitals. 

But the plan for Eagle River to be represented by two senators remained in place. 

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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