Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Alaska Redistricting for the Masses Part 2: The Board Process

  • Part 1 looked at Why We Have Redistricting?  Part 1 will help with understanding some of the legal requirements the board had to balance and key terms needed to understand the process and the court case.
  • Here in Part 2 I'm going to briefly go over what the board did.
  • Part 3 will look at the trial, which ended today. 

Part 2:  The Alaska Redistricting Board

The Board Members are appointed by different officials.  The governor appoints two members, the Speaker of the House appoints one, and the Senate President appoints one.  The last member is appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  The first three positions above are held by Republicans and their appointees are all Republicans.  The Supreme Court Chief Justice appointed a Democrat.  The board consists of three white males, one white female, and one Native female.  Four Republicans and one Democrat. Two are former legislators, two are realtors, and one is the CEO of a Native Corporation.  They come from Kenai, Kodiak, Kotzebue, Fairbanks, and Juneau.  (That’s right, no one from Anchorage.)  Here's a list of the members with pictures and brief bios.

All the board members were appointed by September 2010 and met in December and also went to training on redistricting, the Voting Rights Act (VRA), and how to use the redistricting software.
Board staff was hired, offices secured, furniture, computers were secured.

The Census Data were received on March 13, 2011 and they had their first public meeting in Anchorage on March 15.  The state constitution requires they have a draft plan ready in 30 days and a final plan ready in 90 days from receiving the census data.

There were three key outside groups that also submitted plans.  Alaskans for Fair Redistricting (AFFR) was mainly union and native groups.  Alaskans for Fair and Equitable Redistricting (AFFER) was basically the Alaska Republican Party, some native groups (Calista), and other unnamed funders.  The Rights Coalition was the Democratic party and some other groups.

After the 2001 Plan, AFFR successfully sued and got significant changes in the plan.

All the Board meetings were open to the public.  There was a website, Facebook and Twitter pages, There was a very ambitious public hearing project which had the board traveling all over the state, mostly in teams of two members.

The Voting Rights Act expert, Dr. Lisa Handley was hired on April 9 and met with the board twice by telephone and once in person.  Her main job was to advise the board about the benchmark the Department of Justice would hold them to (That’s the 3-2-1 plus 3 senate mentioned in Part 1) based on the 2002 districts and the racial voting patterns of elections in the last ten years.  She also advised them on the percentage of Natives that would be needed in the new districts to meet the VRA requirements on the new plan.

The board set up a strategy to first do the districts in Southeast Alaska, because they were going from five house districts to four and they had one Native house district and one Native Senate district in the benchmark (2002) plan.  Because of the loss of population and because they are mostly separate from the rest of the state, they were going to be difficult.  Next they wanted to do the rest of the Native districts to be sure they would meet the benchmark requirements.  That left the urban areas for last.  One Board member, Robert Brodie from Kodiak, voiced concern about there not being enough time to do redistricting for over 70% of the population at the end.

PeggyAnn McConnochie took the lead for Southeast and that process was very open.  McConnochie and Marie Green were the leads for the Native districts and that process was also pretty open.  Board member Holm worked on Fairbanks, pretty much by himself and was approved without a lot of discussion by the Board.  Most people were not familiar with Fairbanks or the implications of the maps drawn.  Matsu was, in my recollection done mostly by staff.  Chair Torgerson worked on various maps.  Bob Brodie also worked on various areas, as I recall, doing work on Matsu, Anchorage and Eagle River, Kenai in particular.  He [Brodie] was the one member who regularly challenged the Chair's approach to all this.  [A reader emailed me that I had these last two sentences mixed up and it was misleading.  Fixed now.]

The plan got done in time for the June 14 deadline.  The VRA expert got a draft plan around that time and a final report explaining to the DOJ why she thought it met the requirements of the VRA in August.  The plan was sent with lots of documentation to the Department of Justice.  Board staff and two members - Torgerson and Green - went to DC to meet with DOJ officials during this time and notice of preclearance arrived in October.

There were 30 days after the plan was  completed for anyone to challenge it in Court.  The City of Petersburg, the City of Fairbanks, and two people (Riley and Dearborn)  from Ester/Goldstream filed three separate suits.  It was determined the trial would be in Fairbanks.  Eventually, Petersburg and Fairbanks dropped out but the Ester/Goldstream suit stayed and that was the challenge before Judge McConahy.

I’ll end here for now and try to do an overview of what happened in the court case soon. That's harder because I had to listen in by phone and it just happened and I'm still processing what went on.  But this and Part 1 are probably good background for understanding what happened in the Fairbanks courtroom.

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