Sunday, June 12, 2011

Truncation and Which Senators Get 2 and 4 Year Terms?

At Monday's (tomorrow's) Alaska Redistricting Board meeting, two of the unfinished, but related, jobs to do are 1)  'truncation' and 2) determining which districts will start off with two and four year terms.

1.   Substantially changed district requires new election.  Elected officials should represent the people who elected them.  But when the districts are substantially changed by redistricting, they have new constituents who didn't vote in their new districts.  And thus this new population is represented by someone they had no say about.  So, it is believed  that a substantially changed new district should vote for its senator as soon as possible - which would be November 2012. 

So, truncation is the process of cutting short the terms of sitting Senators in those new districts that have substantially new populations so that the people can vote for the representative at the soonest possible election. [This is not an issue for House districts since they are all two year terms.]

2.  Two or Four Year Terms?  Alaska Senators serve for four years in staggered terms.   From the Alaska Constitution:
The term of representatives shall be two years, and the term of senators, four years. One-half of the senators shall be elected every two years.  [emphasis added]
Thus, in addition to truncating, the board has to make sure that half the seats are up for election every two years. So, for 2012, half the Senators would normally be up for reelection and the other half would be in "mid-term" - that is, they have two more years left in their terms and wouldn't normally be up for reelection until 2014.  Unless their districts have been substantially changed. 

Solving the Problem

1.  Truncation
You have to figure out which districts have to be truncated because they have substantially changed.  But, according to a memo from the Board's attorney, Michael White, to the Chair last March, 
"There are no statutes, regulations or case law guidance on how to ascertain the seating process.  In 2001 Redistricting process, the Board simply alternated between two and four year seats on an alphabetical basis incorporating the mid-term incumbents whose terms did not have to be truncated into the two year seats.  Thus, in 2002 there were 17 seats up for election;  7 were for two years, 10 were or [sic] four years.  Of these 17 seats, 7 senators had their terms truncated due to substantial change in their Senate seats.  This means that 7 mid-term incumbents were required to run for election despite having served only two of their four year term.  The Board's report does not indicate which of the Senate seats were truncated and whether the truncated seats were automatically provided with four year terms.  It appears that the Board simply used an alternating alphabetical basis for determining the 2/4 year terms, incorporating the non-truncated seats as two year terms.

Based on past practice, it would appear that the Board is free to use any rational, reasonably objective method for determining how to allocate two and four year terms."

At last week's meetings, Chair Torgerson said that he thought all the districts had been substantially changed, but attorney White suggested waiting until they had a report on this.  There were numbers talked about, but I'm not completely sure how much change equals substantial.  I think they talked about 10% difference.  That seems to come from the White memo:
"Where there is substantial change to the population of a district, and the previous district is mid-term in 2012, Egan appears to require the incumbent's term be truncated and that an election be held.  What constitutes a substantial change is not defined by law or court decision.  In 2000, the three districts the board found substantially similar, all had less than 10% change in population between the previous plan and the new plan. The next highest percentage of maintained population was 66.2%.  The data does not indicate whether that seat was a mid-term truncation or not. " [See the 2000 truncation plan here.]
In any case, Monday they should get a report that officially says how much change each district had in population.  Those over 10% will most likely be designated as 'substantially changed."  In their eyeballing last week, they identified Juneau as a district that might not be 10% changed.

Next they have to decide which seats get four year terms and which get two year terms.

Board member Bob Brody suggested using the initial numerical (as opposed to the required alphabetical) senate district labels to divide them by odd and even to eliminate any appearance of political bias in deciding who would get a two or four year appointment. 

But this got tabled until the report on truncation comes out.  What, Brody was asked, if you give someone a four year seat through odd and even choosing, but the seat is truncated?  That would mess up the scheme.  It's better to see who is truncated first. 

Except then you take out some of the randomness of the selections.

People thinking ahead could, of course, have arranged the lettering so that some targeted districts got into the 2 year group (say odd).  But I have no evidence to suggest that.  Are there board members who would do that?  Probably.  Are there board members who wouldn't do that?  For sure.  And I suspect the staff is trying to keep the process clean too.  But that's just a gut feeling from talking to them a lot over this process.

(Now that I've read and thought more about this, it appears these are two different things.  Someone who is mid-term, it would seem, shouldn't get a new four year district (extending his term to six years.)  But should a senator who would be up for vote in 2012 anyway be automatically a four year term?  I have to think this through more.)

In any case, those are two key left-over decisions they have to make:
  1. Which districts to truncate, and
  2. Which districts get two year seats and which four year.

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