Judge calls on redistricting board to start work

JUNEAU (AP) — A state court judge on Thursday said the Alaska Redistricting Board should immediately begin redrawing the state's political map.

Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy in a sharply worded order also said the board must hold public hearings on whatever it comes up with.

McConahy has been presiding over challenges to the redistricting plan, which has undergone several iterations. He said Alaska is no closer to having "constitutional voting districts" than it was in February 2012, when he found several districts were unconstitutional as drawn, or last December, when the Alaska Supreme Court ordered the map be redrawn.

"There is no reason to delay this process any further," he wrote.

McConahy did not set specific deadlines but said he agreed with the plaintiffs that the board's timeline was insufficient to draft a new plan, hold hearings and have the proposal reviewed by a judge. He said the board should start work immediately and adopt a plan expeditiously.

"Immediate to me sounds like, get going tomorrow," plaintiffs' attorney Jason Gazewood said. Given the pace of this process in the past — and the time it takes for any legal challenges to be heard and decided — Gazewood said the board is already behind.

Fairbanks-area voters George Riley and Ron Dearborn were among those who had sued initially, alleging the new boundaries would dilute the representation of voters in the new districts.

The Alaska Supreme Court in March 2012 ordered the redistricting board to redraw the map with greater deference to Alaska constitutional requirements. The court, though, ultimately let an interim plan be used for last year's elections after finding problems with the new map.

Then, in December, a divided court ordered a new map be drawn for the 2014 elections. It found the board had not followed the process it was instructed to follow in redrawing the map initially. The process called for designing a plan focusing on state constitutional requirements and then determining if the plan complied with federal law. If it didn't, the board was to make revisions deviating from the constitution when deviation was the only means available to meet federal voting act requirements.

Board Chairman John Torgerson last month said the panel intended to wait for a U.S. Supreme Court decision on provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act before redrawing the map. Under the federal law, Alaska's redistricting plan can't weaken the Alaska Native community's ability to elect candidates of their choosing. What happens in that federal case will make a significant difference in the board's work, board attorney Michael White said Thursday.

If the state is no longer subject to the federal requirements, the board can focus solely on following the state constitutional requirements in drafting a plan, he said.

White said he was still analyzing Thursday's order. The board could appeal.

McConahy said suggestions the board needs to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the voting rights act case "are dilatory and, at the most generous, disingenuous."

05/31/2013 - 6:06am