Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Alaska Redistricting Board Gets Pre-Clearance Approval from DOJ

I just talked to Alaska Redistricting Board Executive Director Taylor Bickford who told me the Board was notified today that their Voting Rights Act (VRA) submission to the Department of Justice Voting Rights section has been approved. While I've been critical of the Board now and then, it was usually on publicity and participation issues, not their efforts to comply with the Voting Rights Act. People can quibble about whether they made the best districts possible, and I've fussed that they seemed to use the VRA requirements as a way to mess with some Democratic incumbents in Fairbanks. But from what I learned this spring, it seems like this approval was deserved and getting it is a good thing. It allows the State to move on toward the 2012 elections without having to go through a massive and expensive process to find even better districts. There should be more information up on the Redistricting Board website later today.

Both of you out there who were holding your breath over this can exhale now. :)

[UPDATE 4:50 pm:  While I was out raking leaves, this email came in:

U.S. Department of Justice Approves
Alaska Redistricting Plan

Anchorage, Alaska - The Alaska Redistricting Board announced today that its final redistricting plan for the redrawing of Alaska's state legislative districts has received "preclearance" from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, a number of states - including Alaska - are required to submit new redistricting plans to the U.S. Department of Justice for review in order to ensure that the proposed change is free from discriminatory purpose or effect and will not result in retrogression. An Alaska redistricting plan is retrogressive if it is drawn in a manner that worsens Alaska Native voting strength as compared to the previous district configurations.

Alaska Redistricting Board Chairman John Torgerson issued the following statement this afternoon:  

"Receiving preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice is validation that the Board was successful in drawing a redistricting plan that maintains and protects the ability of the Alaska Native community to participate in the electoral process. This is an important milestone for the Board and a necessary step before Alaska's new legislative districts can be implemented."
A copy of the preclearance letter is available for public download from the Board's website.  Detailed information about the Section 5 review process can be accessed at http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/sec_5/about.php. ]
Below is the letter.  Note the last line.  It "does not bar subsequent litigation to enjoin the enforcement of the changes."

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