Alaska Supreme Court approves redistricting plan

JUNEAU (AP) — A divided Alaska Supreme Court on Tuesday approved a redistricting map for this year's elections, opting against a plan that redrew southeast Alaska districts.

The court, in a 3-2 decision, cited numerous objections to the way in which the Alaska Redistricting Board redrew the region and said there was a risk the U.S. Department of Justice would not pre-clear the plan.

"Notice of the failure of the Department of Justice to pre-clear the new districts would come so late in the 2012 election cycle that a great disruption to the election process would result," the court said in its opinion.

It can take up to 60 days for Justice to make a decision.

The candidate filing deadline is June 1. The primary is scheduled for Aug. 28.

The court decided the plan that will be used for this year's elections will be the one adopted by the board in April.

The board's executive director, Taylor Bickford, has said the plan is similar to one sent back by the court for further work earlier this year, though there are differences. For example, the Aleutian chain isn't split, and Fairbanks' two Democratic senators, Joe Thomas and Joe Paskvan, would not be forced to run against each other.

Justices Daniel Winfree and Craig Stowers dissented from the order, preferring instead to have the elections conducted under a map that reconfigured southeast Alaska districts. In the majority were Chief Justice Walter Carpeneti, Justice Dana Fabe and Senior Justice Warren Matthews, who is sitting by assignment.

In April, Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy rejected the plan that is now expected to govern this year's elections, in part because he found the board didn't redraw southeast Alaska based on state constitutional requirements. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ordered the board to redraw House and Senate districts in the region.

The resulting proposal elicited a handful of challenges claiming, among other things, that the plan would disenfranchise rural communities in the region. The changes included pairing Republican Reps. Cathy Munoz of Juneau with Rep. Bill Thomas of Haines.

Munoz and Thomas would not be paired under the plan OK'd by the court for the 2012 elections, though in southeast Alaska, Reps. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, and Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, would be paired, as would Sens. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon.

Justice must still give preclearance to the plan.

Bickford said the board is pleased with the court's decision, as it had been concerned with the position the court had staked in regards to southeast Alaska earlier this month. He said the board believes the plan approved Tuesday will "better represent Native communities than the one we were forced to draw."

Tuesday's order isn't the last word in the case, and there remains the potential for southeast Alaska to be reworked for future elections.

The court still hasn't decided the board's appeal of McConahy's decision. When an opinion is rendered, it "will contain a discussion of and directions concerning the reconfiguration of Southeast Districts, and will seek to ensure that districts that comply with the Alaska Constitution can receive timely review by the Department of Justice for use in subsequent elections," the court said.

05/23/2012 - 6:59am