Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Alaska Redistricting for the Masses Part 3: The Trial - The Disputed Districts

Gnashing of teeth, Tearing of hair.  This post is hard.  So many details.  How to do an overview yet reflect the complications?  And I'm only talking about the parts that I think I understand somewhat.  I'm still leaving stuff out.  And how to do this before the decision comes out, which the judge said he'd get done by the first Monday of February?  The Board has announced meetings, tentatively, starting Monday, January 30, so they could have adequate public notice in order to meet as soon as the decision is in.  And they cancelled Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday's meetings because the decision isn't out yet. 

So, I've decided to break Post 3 down into more than one post.  This one focuses on the districts that have been challenged as unconstitutional.  There are six.  Five directly connected to Fairbanks and one indirectly.  [This post ended up only being about districts 1 and 2  and 37.]

The basic question to be decided by the judge is this:

Could the Board have created a redistricting plan that met BOTH the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the Alaska constitutional requirements?  

The burden of proof rests with the Board.  

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has approved the plan as meeting the VRA requirements.  Four of the districts challenged, were determined to NOT meet Alaska constitutional requirements - House Districts (HD) 1, 2, 37, and 38.

Districts 1 and 2

HD 1 and HD 2 - Double click to enlarge

[The numbers on the map refer to the house district and the letters refer to the senate district.  Two house districts are combined to make a senate district.]

The key problem the Judge found in HD 1 was the "appendage" that goes into HB 4.  (It's the brown finger that points left between the blue of 4 and the green (of 3).  The judge's order that found districts 1, 2, and 37 NOT compact is here.     This actually got settled before the trial began.  The order reads, in part:
. . . the Plaintiffs argue that House District 1 contains a classical appendage on its western side, which protrudes west from the Steese Highway along the Slough.  The far western tip of the appendage contains a small portion of Aurora area south of College Road and north of Noyes Slough.
It goes on to say that the Plaintiffs argue that it would be easy to switch a different portion of the map so that there is no appendage.  In the trial, Leonard Lawson, who was a technical witness for the plaintiffs, and had drawn the maps for the Rights Coalition, demonstrated how this could be done, showing he could adjust the lines to get rid of the appendage without affecting the number of population in each district which is important in keeping all the districts close to the same size and ensuring one person - one vote.

The importance of this appendage is further spelled out as an example of alleged political gerrymandering.  Again from the Judge's order:
The Fairbanks Districts were drawn by Board member Jim Holm.  Jim Holm is the former Republican State Representative from West Fairbanks City.  In 2004 and 2006, Mr. Holm ran for re-election against Democrat Scott Kawasaki, with Mr. Holm winning in 2004 and Mr. Kawasaki winning in 2006.  Mr. Kawasaki is the current representative of West Fairbanks.  The Plaintiffs argue that the 2006 race was close and hotly contested.

The Plantiffs allege that Mr. Holm drew the appendage in House District 1 in an effort to move Mr. Kawasaki from his current West Fairbanks District to East Fairbanks, where he would be forced to run for re-election in a district that was substantially different from his current district, and against a popular former City Mayor and Republican House Incumbent. who would be running in a district that would be substantially similar to his current district.  The Plaintiffs argue that Mr. Holm believed that Mr. Kawaski lived in what is in actuality his sister's home.  The Plaintiffs base this argument on the following:  Ms. Kawasaki (Mr. Kawasaki's sister) indicated her address as 224 Spruce when she signed in to attend a Board Hearing;  Ms. Kawasaki is often mistaken as Mr. Kawasaki's wife.  Ms. Kawaski's home was located in the West Fairbanks City District under the Board Option Plans;  and Ms. Kawasaki's home is now in the East Fairbanks City District under the Proclamation Plan when the district's western appendage was created.  

The Plaintiffs also argue that after the Board's Proclamation Plan, Mr. Pruhs, the Republican Party District 10 Chair, filed a letter of intent to run for the legislature.  Under the Board Option Plans Mr. Pruhs' home was in East Fairbanks City and under the Proclamation Plan, Mr. Pruhs' home is located in West Fairbanks.  Under the Board Option Plans, Mr. Pruhs would have had to face the current incumbent for East Fairbanks City, Mr. Thompson, who is also Republican.  Under the Proclamation Plan Mr. Pruhs will be running against Mr. Kawasaki.  Also if Mr. Kawasaki lived where his sister's home is, Mr. Pruhs would be running in a district without an incumbent. 

The Defense rebuttal to this was that their need to comply with the VRA forced them to make changes in the Fairbanks area - in the trial they talked about a ripple effect that made this appendage unavoidable.  They also said that Mr. Holm was following natural boundaries and that this was simply a complete census block and that population was needed in HD 1.  They also denied 'the conspiracy theory' saying that Mr. Holm knew where Mr. Kawasaki lived.  You can read the details in the order.

My own observation is that when the Fairbanks draft plan was introduced to the Board, it happened too quickly and too vaguely for anyone to know how it affected incumbents before the board approved it.  Board member Brodie asked how it affected incumbents and member Holm replied:  "I haven't made an incumbent analysis yet."  But in the defense reply they said that Mr. Holm knew where Mr. Kawaski lived.  In the trial, Mr. Holm was able to answer most questions posed by the Board's attorney, but when the Plaintiff's attorney asked him questions he, as I wrote in a previous post wrote, either didn't know, couldn't remember, or resented the implication. 

Moving along to District 2, from the Judge's order again:

The Plaintiffs argue House District 2 is not compact under the Reock Test.  The Plaintiffs also argue that House District 2 is one large corridor that connects three major population areas:  Badger, North Pole, and Eilson/Salcha and at the same time divides these population areas among four districts (1, 2, 3, and 6).  The Plaintiffs argue that this is an odd shape, which the Hickel Court held to be indicative of gerrymandering.  The Plaintiffs additionally argue that narrow highway corridor districts are indicative of gerrymandering and that the Richardson Highway Corridor District runs for 40 miles and is about 1/35th the population.  The Plaintiffs content there is no justification for this non-compactness.

Then the Judge cites the Board's response:
The Board contends that House District 2 was designed to accomplish the legitimate goals of redistricting - that of equal population distribution and socio-economic integration.  The Board argues that the type of corridor districts Alaska courts are concerned with are corridors of land that extend to include a populated area but not the less populated area around it.  The Board also argues that there is not a single shred of evidence that the configuration of House District 2 is partisan in nature.

The Board argues that House District 2 largely consists of North Pole and Eilson Air Force Base because "many of the people that live in North Pole are retired military" and "there's a real close tie between Eilson Air Force Base and North Pole, that's where the people that don't live on Base live."  Mr. Holm did not include land that is farmland because he believed the farmers had more in common with the extensive population in House District 6 and it was not possible to stretch the boundary of House District 2 towards House District 4 because he needed the population for House District 4.
There are several issues here that came up again in the trial.  Although Eilson and North Pole were put together because all the military have a common bond, Ft. Wainwright was left in District 1 and Ft. Wainwright's bombing range which has no population at all, was put into District 5.  Without the bombing range, District 5 would not be contiguous to District 6 and they couldn't have been paired for a Senate District and then the two Democratic Senators in Fairbanks couldn't have been paired into a single district.

Second, Mr. Holm testified several times about his interest in keeping the farmers in the area together because they had common interests.  But when the Plaintiff's attorney asked him how many farmers there were, he said he didn't know the actual numbers.  Mr. Walleri (the attorney) suggested there might be as many as 6 farmers and Mr. Holm said nothing.  So it appeared that the farmer issue was a total red herring.

A quick look at district 37.

Double Click to Enlarge - HD 37 is Green
District 37 is half the Aleutians.   A Supreme Court decision on a previous redistricting plan (Hickel v. Southeast Conference) found:
Although the parties did not raise this issue, the separation of the Aleutian Islands is so plainly erroneous that we address the issue sua sponte. Thus, in exercise of our authority under article IV, section two of the Alaska Constitution, we hold that the separation of the Aleutian Islands into two districts violates article VI, section six of the Alaska Constitution.

The Judge found these three districts (plus 38 for other reasons) unconstitutional and left the burden of proof on the defense (the redistricting board) to prove they had to violate the constitution to comply with the Voting Rights Act. 

And remember - some of the key concepts about the Voting Rights Act and the Constitutional requirements were covered in Post 1. 

OK, these posts were supposed to be overviews, but I've fallen deep into the details.  But the principles without the details mean nothing.  I've got notes that outline the principles, but as I write, that seems less important in understanding what went on and on how the judge will determine whose arguments on principles were most persuasive.  For now, I'll stop here because this is complicated and long enough.  I'll add at least one and probably two more overview posts on the trial. 


  1. Overview..? I enjoy your overview.

    I am assisting the teenager with statistics homework... He found your website about redistricting...

    Thank you...

    1. Anon, thanks. I think this stuff is important for Alaskans to know about, but a lot of things are important. So I'm glad to get your note and that someone was able to put it to use. There's more coming. And the parts 1 and 2 really were overviews. :)

  2. I was deeply disappointed the current board changed the numbering system as far as starting in Fairbanks rather than in Southeast, where it had existed for quite a number of years as the start- Senate District A, HD 1 and 2. Any thoughts as to why this was done? Seems to be add a layer of confusion when comparing the historical past to the proposed present. I hope the judge changes it back but I don't think anyone asked for it. Bummer

    1. Here's a link to my post on when they did the numbers.

      Basically, Marie Greene wanted to keep the old Native district numbers as close to the same as possible - 37, 38, 39, 40. PeggyAnn McConnochie, from SE, said she didn't care as long as things worked out.

      Taylor Bickford, the executive director, said he started in Fairbanks, so that's why 10 became 1.


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