Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Alaska Redistricting Process - What Happens Next?

I've gone through the Supreme Court decision in detail in terms of what I think it means.  But what are the practical implications?  [I'm trying to keep this simple, but it might help to look at "A Guided tour Through The Supreme Court Redistricting Decision" post which has links to three "Redistricting for the Masses" posts that explain underlying concepts and terms.]

  • The Board will have to make a new plan and that has lots of possibilities.
    • What are the parts they have to change?
    • Can they be fixed without messing with the rest of the districts?
    • Do they start completely fresh or leave most of the existing plan intact?
    • Are there any candidates obviously affected?
  • What problem did the court have and could it have been prevented?
I think I'll address the first main bullet point, and sub-points, in this post and pick up the second one in a subsequent post.

What Parts Have to Change?

1.  The process.  Instead of focusing on complying with the Voting Rights Act (VRA), they have to first focus on creating a plan that complies with the Alaska Constitution

District 1 appendage into District 4
2.  House districts 1, 2, 37, and 38.  House District (HD) 1 is a compactness issue and involves an appendage going into HD 4.  Plaintiff's witness Leonard Lawson showed at the trial that the two districts can exchange a couple of census districts and clean that up.

Board Plan - Fairbanks area districts

 HD 2 is also a compactness issue but fixing it will affect other districts around it.  It stretches down along the highway going through several communities. 

Aleutian Districts 36 and 37
HD 37 is a contiguity issue - the splitting of the Aleutians - and will affect the other part of the Aleutians (HD 36) and probably have spillover effects into other districts.

HD 38
HD 38 is a socio-economic integration issue. The district combines Bering Sea villages with Fairbanks suburbs.  Taking Ester and Goldstream out of this district will force 38 to find population elsewhere and rearrange the Fairbanks districts.  But where that population will come from may well raise other questions.  The Supreme Court said they understood the need for high Native Voting Age Population (VAP) numbers in some districts because of Native concentration in geographically isolated areas, so they may be looking to rearrange 36, 37, and 38 and find other less urban population - rural road communities, for example - to make those three work.

3.  A single Senate seat for all of the City of Fairbanks.  The Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiff's argument that the City of Fairbanks was big enough (89% of the population of a Senate seat) to meet the 'proportionality'* standard.  While stating this principle, they deferred saying the City of Fairbanks had to have a single Senate seat, but I suspect the Board would have to have a very good reason not to.  A good reason might be that was the only way to get everything else constitutionally ok AND meet the VRA.  I think it unlikely they would come up with that situation. 

Do they start completely fresh or leave most of the existing plan intact?

The Supreme Court told the board that its 1994 ruling on Hickel v Southeast Conference requires redistricting boards to come up with a plan that meets the Alaska Constitutional Requirements of compactness, contiguity, and socio-economic integrity.  Basically that means the districts should be as small as possible, that all parts should be connected to each other (and given that we have lots of islands, water is ok if 'reasonable' - like a ferry or air connection), and the people in the district have relatively common interests.  I learned at the hearings that everyone in a political subdivision, for redistricting purposes, meets the socio-economic integrity test.  So, any district in the Municipality of Anchorage, even if it mixes a wealthy white area with a poor non-white area, would be considered socio-economically integrated.

The plan they submitted focused on meeting both the constitutional criteria and the VRA criteria.  But while they tried to balance both, they made the decision to meet the VRA criteria first because, they said, they would be harder to meet and once they got the right number of Native districts, the rest of the districts, they figured, would fall into place.  They also knew that the federal standards trumped the state standards, so, in the end, it would be better to to have a plan that passed the VRA standards but not the state standards than the other way around.

Unlike a year ago (they got the Census Data March 15 and began meeting in earnest the next day) this time they've seen the data, they've played with it and the computer programs, and they have a better idea of what's possible.  I suspect they'll have a plan together a lot faster than last time.

So, to start, they need a redistricting plan that meets the Alaska constitutional requirements. They could probably ignore the VRA requirements and whip one out in a day.  But they'll still have to get from there to a plan that meets VRA too.  Some options:

1.  Use one of the plans that paired  Senator Hoffman with Senator Stevens.  That one, people agreed, met both the state requirements and got the right number of Native districts.  But the board felt the pairing of a Native Senator with a non-Native Senator would probably not get VRA approval.  The Superior Court and the Supreme Court both felt that this was speculative and not certain.   They could take that plan to the DOJ and test it.

2.  Start with the submitted plan and make it comply with the the Alaska Constitution.  They'd have to redo the districts that were declared unconstitutional - 1, 2, 37, and 38.  I imagine it would be helpful to put the Aleutians back together since splitting them was rejected  by the 1994 Hickel ruling, by Judge McConahy this year - who included a long quote from early Russians about the Aleutians - and by the Supreme Court.   Then get it to comply with the Voting Rights Act.  They are allowed to deviate from the Alaska constitutional requirements if they can show it was necessary to get in compliance with VRA.

3.  Start from scratch, but using what they have learned over this year, and come up with a new plan.  Some areas - like Anchorage - they could leave pretty much the same.  Fairbanks they will have to clean up.  In this project, they should do pretty much what the did the first time - consider the VRA and Constitutional requirements simultaneously - but this time give the constitution priority.  Then, once the map is done, tweak it as necessary to make it comply with the VRA too.  

Can they be fixed without messing with the rest of the districts?

Three of the four districts (1, 2, 38) that were ruled unconstitutional connect to Fairbanks.  The fourth one (37) is adjacent to 38.  It's possible the board can focus on Interior Alaska and Western Alaska and leave the rest of the state intact. 

Are there any candidates obviously affected?

This one is even vaguer than the others.

1.  House District 1. There were allegations that the finger into HD 4 would allow a former Fairbanks Mayor (and Republican) to run against Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki instead of another Republican.  It will depend on how they fix HD 1.  It also depends on how they fix HD 2 which is on the east side of HD 1.  I'm not sure how much wiggle room they have to play with the Fairbanks house districts or whether, because of the proportionality* argument about the Fairbanks Senate seat, they will be under pressure to have all of the City in two house districts.  Fairbanks' population is 89% of a Senate district (two house districts) so there will be the need to get 11% of the population from elsewhere in the borough.  And rework the nearby Senate districts.

2.  City of Fairbanks Senate Seat. This seemed to many observers - myself included - to be the most likely manipulation of the redistricting process.  By not combining the two Fairbanks house districts into one Senate seat, they were able to pair the two Democratic Senate incumbents.  There was nothing in their argument about how the VRA decisions had a ripple effect forcing this (and the appendage from HD 1 into HD 4) that was persuasive.  If the new plan still pairs Senators Paskvan and Thomas, it will be more than suspect.

3.  Senators Hoffman, Olsen, and Stevens.  The court cited a plan (I think it was one of the plans that Board executive director Taylor Bickford came up (Map 14 I believe) with as an exercise in which abandoned some of the assumptions the board made about how to divide up North and Northwest Alaska) that met the Alaska Constitutional requirements and kept the required number of Native districts.  But it paired Native Senator Hoffman from Bethel and Senate President Stevens from Kodiak.  (Another such plan, I believe paired Native Senator Olsen with Stevens.)  The Board got lots of negative feedback from the Native community over this pairing and the Board backed off.  They believed that pairing a Native incumbent this way, plus the opposition from Native groups would have doomed the plan when it went to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for VRA approval.  But the Superior Court ruled that it wasn't retrogressive (ie - it maintained the number of Native Districts) and they couldn't know for sure that it would be rejected by the  (DOJ).

At the Supreme Court, plaintiff's attorney, Michael Walleri, argued that if Hoffman or Olsen's districts were truly 'effective Native' districts, then the Native supported candidates would have won and there wasn't a threat to the Native candidate.  The justices apparently agreed. 

If the Board goes back to these plans, which are the only ones they produced that met both the state constitutional and VRA requirements, these senators would be impacted. 

4.  Wildcard.  By this I mean that once the Board goes back to the drawing board, the ripple effects of playing with boundaries in one district will spill over into neighboring districts and there is no telling what might happen.  They did pretty much protect incumbents in the original plan, but now there are non-incumbent candidates who have filed to run. 

Also, I've assumed that they could leave most of the state as it is and concentrate on Interior Alaska and the North and Northwest.  But Judge McConahy, as was pointed out by the Supreme Court, " expressed unease with the "influence" district created in the southeast and invited us to consider its validity sua sponte."  So it's possible that the Board will have revisit districts all over the state.

These are some of the things I think are significant from the Supreme Court decision, but I'm sure I missed some.  Minimally, it should help people who don't follow this closely to understand a bit more of what the court case was about and what happens next.

My next post on this will address the last question listed above:
  • What problem did the court have and could it have been prevented?
My intent is not to lay blame, but to try to figure out where the Board got caught and ideally give some guidance to people who may be involved in ten years when the next redistricting occurs.  

 *Proportionality.  Ohhhh.  There are so many little complications.  As I understand this, it means that a political unit should, as much as possible, be put into a single district or get as many full districts as their population would justify.  This leads to the complaints in this case to the City of Fairbanks being split into two different Senate districts.  It also relates to the argument that since the North Star Fairbanks Borough has enough population for 5.5 house districts, the .5 should be in a single district.  Instead it was split up.

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