Four lawsuits challenge Alaska Redistricting Board’s new legislative map

The Alaska Redistricting Board took the final legal steps to adopt this legislative district map on Nov. 10, 2021. (Screen capture from Redistricting Board website)
The Alaska Redistricting Board took the final legal steps to adopt this legislative district map on Nov. 10. Four lawsuits were filed against the board challenging the map by the deadline on Friday. (Screen capture from Redistricting Board website)

Four lawsuits have been filed against the Alaska Redistricting Board, seeking to change parts of the legislative map it adopted last month. Each lawsuit argues that communities were wrongly placed in the same district with other communities they have little in common with. 

Three of the lawsuits were filed by municipalities. 

Skagway argued in its lawsuit that it has much closer ties to downtown Juneau than it does with the Mendenhall Valley area of Juneau. But the new map includes Skagway and its neighbor Haines with the Mendenhall Valley. 

Both the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the City of Valdez argue in their suits that they shouldn’t share district boundaries with each other.

The legislative districts drawn for Mat-Su have more residents than those in other parts of the state.

Mat-Su Borough Manager Michael Brown said the board could have used its mapping programs to draw districts with more even population numbers. 

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be that way. And with the technology that exists today, it’s pretty easy to draw these lines and know exactly where you are.”

Valdez City Manager Mark Detter said it makes more sense for Valdez to be in a district with the Richardson Highway communities or those around the Prince William Sound than to be in one with part of Mat-Su. 

“We don’t share many commonalities, socioeconomically, or obviously in terms of our geography,” he said.

While the three lawsuits filed by municipalities focused on House districts, the fourth lawsuit focused on the Senate districts, which pair two House districts together. 

In particular, a lawsuit by three Anchorage residents raises a series of concerns about the board’s pairing two parts of Eagle River with the South Muldoon and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson neighborhoods. The lawsuit said the two Eagle River House districts could have been paired together into one compact Senate district. 

Joelle Hall is a member of a coalition, Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, that is providing financial support for the lawsuit. Hall is also the president of the  Alaska AFL-CIO state labor union federation. 

“Folks came out on the record and said, ‘Absolutely do not pair Eagle River with East Anchorage. We’ve seen it before. We don’t like it. Don’t do it again,’” she said.

She also said a comment by board member Bethany Marcum that the Eagle River Senate districts would provide the area with more representation was inappropriate. 

“Well, that’s unconstitutional,” she said. “You’re not supposed to be thinking about giving one community more representation versus another.”

She also says the board failed to provide the public with enough time to comment on the Senate pairings. 

Hall said it’s possible that if the lawsuit is successful, the Senate pairings could be changed ahead of this year’s election. She said it’s unlikely that the House districts will change before the election because of the complexities of drawing new district boundaries. 

In a brief emailed statement, the board said it will review the challenges and “respond through the court system as contemplated by the Alaska Constitution.” It said it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment further. 

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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