Juneau, Alaska (Alaska Beacon) - The board responsible for drawing the boundaries of Alaska’s legislative districts voted Monday against making any changes after the state Supreme Court recently issued its full ruling on lawsuits challenging the map.
That likely means there won’t be any changes to the district lines used in last year’s election until 2032, though Alaskans displeased with the map have 30 days to challenge it in court.
Alaska Redistricting Board member Budd Simpson of Juneau said that while he disagreed with some of the statements in the Supreme Court ruling, he opposed trying to redraw the map again.
“I think it would be disruptive, and an exercise in futility, honestly, to attempt to make any substantive change,” said Simpson, an appointee of Gov. Mike Dunleavy to the board.
In April, the Alaska Supreme Court in a 111-page opinion explained its reasoning for earlier rulings related to redistricting. The court upheld Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews’ rulings that overturned the board’s original map, which split Eagle River’s two House districts into separate Senate districts. Matthews and the Supreme Court ruled that the split was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
Matthews required the board to use an alternative map that the board had considered previously. While the Supreme Court left that interim map in place for the 2022 election, its recent opinion gave the redistricting board some room to revisit the map, an option the board chose not to pursue.
Bethany Marcum, who rejoined the board on Monday, was the only board member who said she preferred that the board consider making changes to the map.
“We’re charged with this task under the constitution,” said Marcum, an Anchorage resident Dunleavy appointee. “That’s our job, so I believe that the final plan that we should adopt should be through the process that’s laid out in the constitution. The plan that we have right now didn’t come through that process. The plan that we have now came because the court said, ‘You must adopt this other plan.’”
Board member Melanie Bahnke, an appointee of former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger, noted that the board had voted for the Senate map as an option to be considered, though it ultimately chose the map the court rejected in a 3-2 vote opposed by Bahnke and board member Nicole Borromeo.
“The plan that the majority had adopted was deemed unconstitutional by the court, so I don’t feel like this is being forced down our throats,” said Bahnke, a Nome resident.
Ultimately, the board adopted the map in a 5-0 vote.
During the board meeting, its first in nearly a year, board attorney Matthew Singer walked the board through the Supreme Court’s opinion. He said the court had upheld 99.9% of the board’s House map – requiring only that Cantwell be in the same district as the rest of the Denali Borough – and 95% of its Senate map.
Singer said the court provided clarity on many of the issues the board grappled with.
“Many of them we got right and a couple of them we didn’t and that’s the nature of the process,” Singer said.
If there are no legal challenges to the map, then the board just has a few loose ends to tie up. For example, Girdwood resident Louis Theiss, one of the plaintiffs who sued to challenge the plan, said plaintiffs will seek to have the board pay for their attorney fees.
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