Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Alaska Redistricting Board Appears To Take A Partisan Turn

The Alaska Redistricting Board has publicly, up to now, acted as a reasonable, non-partisan body working on remapping Alaska's state House and Senate districts (there's only one member of Congress from Alaska, so there's only one statewide district for that.)  Although I've quibbled over some of their executive sessions because I thought that they probably covered issues that were not required or allowed to be in executive session, I think the chair, John Binkley has been pretty open about taking lots of public testimony at meetings, about chastising the Board about talking about Board issues when not on the record, and even having rejecting one Board member's request for an executive session to discuss her problems with how he was handling the board.  Instead he had her make her comments publicly during a Board meeting .

The Board also agreed, according to Board executive director, Peter Torkelson, that they would not have any partisan data in the board's official software.  And that they had agreed that "protecting incumbents" would not be one of their guidelines.  [See end of Part 4 in this June 25, 2021 blog post.]

But after the two Board proposed draft plans came out publicly, it looks like they also should have had another guideline:  No trying to get rid of incumbents.  

Soon after the maps came out, @Alaskanrobby posted the following analysis of the maps on Twitter:

 I can't seem to copy the whole thread in one embed, so I'm putting up several of the tweets.  In one case it seems I've had to repeat one tweet because it was connected to two others.   You can see the whole thread and all the maps at the @Alaskanrobby link above. 

This map with the one side box along the highway seems to reenact the attempt in the 2010 redistricting to cut Scott Kawaski's house from his district in a similar cutout.  But apparently the people who tried that found Scott's sister's address in the phonebook (it was listed as S. Kawasaki and her name is Sonia).  If this is true, it would expose Board Member Bethany Marcum's almost fanatic zeal to eliminate all protrusions on Matsu maps as hypocritical, since this protrusion got left in and, according to Alaskanrobby, it's what pulls Hannan out of her old district.  

The title of this post includes "Appears to."   I don't know that Marcum was involved with the SE maps - she was definitely focused on Matsu, Fairbanks, and Anchorage.  And I haven't independently verified @Alaskanrobby's maps.  And while I've dm'd @Alaskanrobby, I haven't heard back.  

These are only proposed plans.  There are sixty days from the proposal (until Nov 9, 2021 I think) to get feedback from around the state and for the Board to make adjustments and present its final proclamation.  And if things are still serious problems, groups and/or individuals can sue the board to get the maps changed.  

I'm trying to identify where there is a ban against gerrymandering.  In a March 17, 2011 post I listed all the parameters then Board attorney Michael White identified for the Board to follow. Among the federal parameters I've got down was   "No political or racial gerrymandering."  But I'm not sure where exactly that comes from.  The document I linked to is no longer available.

All About Redistricting was developed by Loyola Marymount professor Justin Levitt* [Be sure to see note below].  Partisan gerrymandering is tricky. Its section on partisanship begins like this:

"Most scholarly and popular attention to redistricting has to do with the partisan outcome of the process, though partisan impacts are hardly the only salient impacts.

The federal constitution puts few practical limits on redistricting bodies. Individual districts can be drawn to favor or disfavor candidates of a certain party, or individual incumbents or challengers (indeed, the Court has explicitly blessed lines drawn to protect incumbents, and even those drawn for a little bit of partisan advantage).  As for the district plan as a whole, the Supreme Court has unanimously stated that excessive partisanship in the process is unconstitutional, but the Court has also said that federal courts cannot hear claims of undue partisanship because of an inability to decide how much is “too much.”

State law, however, increasingly restricts undue partisanship.  In 2010, only eight states directly regulated partisan outcomes in the redistricting process (as opposed to attempting to achieve compromise or balance through the structure of the redistricting body); now, the constitutions or statutes of 19 states speak to the issue for state legislative districts, and 17 states do the same for congressional districts."

*[Prof. Justin Levitt is currently on leave from Loyola and serving as White House Senior Policy Advisor for Democracy and Voting Rights.  He is NOT the Justin Levitt who serves on the team that was contracted by the Board to review the Board's plan's compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act (VRA).]

I've been trying to find a good gerrymandering site that gives lots of common methods of gerrymandering.  Here's a link to a post and video from 2018.  There's also a link to an online redistricting game you can play that shows ways to gerrymander.  

What I don't recall seeing in the gerrymandering literature is a distinction between targeting voters (playing with the voters in the district) and targeting politicians.  The Wikipedia gerrymandering article does talk about 'kidnapping' which would describe what the Juneau map is alleged to do to Rep. Hannan.  The other key approach is to put a bunch of incumbents of the 'enemy' party into one district, forcing them to run against each other.  That's what is happening in the new Anchorage district that is purported to put Reps. Claman, Drummond, and Field into one district.  

Let the battles begin.  Did the partisan gerrymanderers show their hands too soon?   

I don't think this posts wraps up neatly, but then maybe it reflects where we ae in the process.  And things are about to get a lot more confusing.  

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