ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Alaska Supreme Court ruled against the Alaska Redistricting Board’s redistricting plan for the state Wednesday afternoon, saying its imbalances of the Alaska Constitution weren’t necessitated by the federal Voting Rights Act and ordering the board to write a new plan.
Two Fairbanks-area residents had sued over the board’s plan, which split the Aleutian Islands into separate state House districts and created another district which stretched from Fairbanks to the coast of the Bering Sea. While a Superior Court judge ruled that House Districts 1, 2, 37 and 38 should be redrawn, the redistricting board challenged that ruling for Districts 37 and 38 to the state’s high court.
In its decision, the court cited its ruling in a previous redistricting case, Hickel v. Southeast Conference, noting that while compliance with the Voting Rights Act takes precedence over compliance with the state constitution, "[t]he Voting Rights Act need not be elevated in stature so that the requirements of the Alaska Constitution are unnecessarily compromised.”
While it commended the redistricting board for its diligence in trying to strike a balance, the court said that the board didn’t use the procedure it recommended in the previous case, creating a plan based on the state constitution’s requirements then testing it against the Voting Rights Act.
“Because it did not follow the Hickel process, the Board cannot meaningfully demonstrate that the Proclamation Plan's Alaska constitutional deficiencies were necessitated by Voting Rights Act compliance, nor can we reliably decide that question,” the court wrote.
The court also noted the political value of requirements in the state constitution that the redistricting board’s plan didn’t follow.
“We have previously noted that the article VI, section 6 requirements were designed to prevent gerrymandering by ensuring ‘that the election district boundaries fall along natural or logical lines rather than political or other lines,’” the court wrote. “A redistricting plan that substantially deviates from these constitutional requirements undermines trust in the process.”
The court’s decision also said that the Superior Court decision erred in ruling that a Fairbanks Senate district that contained 89 percent of an ideal Senate district shouldn’t be evaluated for dilution of voters’ political strength. It also found issue with the lower court’s ruling that House Districts 37 and 38 didn’t comply with the state constitution because five Alaska Native House districts have more Native voters than necessary.