On the second of a two-day meeting, the group tasked with redrawing Alaska’s political boundaries discussed how to add enough people to Southeast Alaska districts to make four legislative districts work best, considering the low population.
The redistricting process takes place every 10 years after the U.S. Census releases its granular population data that goes down to the precinct level. The Redistricting Board plans to have a draft plan available by Sept. 11, and a final map no later than Nov. 10.
As the five members of the board grappled with where to start in the state, beginning in Ketchikan emerged as the best idea, since that district can only stretch north, and has few choices. It didn’t appear the Petersburg Borough, which was just formed during the past decade, will be included in the Ketchikan District 36, because it would add too many people. District 36 stretches up to Wrangell at this point.
There are 13,948 in the Ketchikan Borough, which is 23 percent under the ideal size for a district to keep all districts the same size. The group’s target size for Southeast is 18,071 for each district.
At least one district, north Juneau, will have to stretch up to Yakutat, but not likely Cordova. Where Gustavus and Tenakee go is a decision in play. Both have strong Juneau connections.
This target number of 18,071 would leave the districts in Southeast Alaska slightly underpopulated and overrepresented by about 1,200, but if the board included Cordova in the region, they would overpopulate Southeast by 1,400.
Since Southeast is growing slower than the state as a whole, this math problem could open the redistricting map up to a legal challenge, especially if they end up overpopulating a fast-growing area of the state, such as the Mat-Su, which has grown by over 20 percent. The board needs to be careful to not intentionally underrepresent or overrepresent regions.
The overall goal for representation for each district across the state is 18,335, plus or minus 5 percent. This calculation is set by both the state constitution and by statute and is based on the state’s overall population divided by 40.
The map can have as much as a 10 percent disparity between the lowest and the highest population district in the state. To do that, however, it needs strong justification to hold up against a court challenge. Intentionally under representing a region of the state is a legal risk.
A short period of public testimony featured James Squyres from District 9, and Sen. Tom Begich, both of whom offered perspectives on how to proceed.
Squyers noted that people in Delta Junction have more in common with Fairbanks than they do with Palmer, where they are currently lumped as part of District 9. He said when they want shop at Fred Meyer, they do not cross the Alaska Range to head to Palmer, but they go to Fairbanks instead.
John Binkley, chair of the Redistricting Board, mused that he would add a “Fred Meyer” screening layer to the list of considerations, which drew laughter from the room.
Every initial redistricting plan in the past has been thrown out by the court, but there is a lot of hope among Alaskans that Binkley will be able to put together a plan that will survive a court challenge.
It’s likely that many of the districts will change boundaries and that even the numbers of some of the 40 House Districts will change, making it difficult for candidates to know what seat they might be running for next year.
To satisfy population changes since 2010, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough is expected to gain a legislative seat at the expense of Interior Alaska, Fairbanks and Anchorage, areas that lost population between 2010 and 2020.
The meeting continued into the afternoon, with the group discussing all kinds of theoretical map changes to try to even up areas that lost population with areas that gained. The focus was on the Interior areas including Hooper Bay, Chevak, Crooked Creek, Bethel, Napaskiak, Kwethluk, Quinhagak, Goodnews, Eek, Pribilof, and other rural communities.
The Alaska Redistricting Board adopted the following meeting schedule and announced that public testimony will be taken at the beginning and end of each board meeting. The intent is to have full day meetings at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office, but that is subject to change based on availability. Meetings times and more detailed agendas will be forthcoming as they are finalized.
September 7 – 9, 2021: Map Drawing Work Sessions
September 10, 2021: Discussion and Adoption of Draft Plan(s)
September 17, 2021: Presentations of Submitted (3rd Party) Plan(s)
September 21, 2021: Discussion and Adoption of Additional Draft Plan(s)