ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska Redistricting Board will consider seven possible political district configurations it created on its own, plus five others submitted by groups or individuals, as it begins hearings to draw up new boundary lines.
The board also will welcome more proposals at hearings in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, the Anchorage Daily News reported (http://bit.ly/11NBdkN ).
"They just really wanted to make sure that they looked at all different options, see what people can do," said board attorney Michael White. "The idea behind public input is, somebody comes up with a better way to build a better mousetrap, we're certainly not adverse to looking at that."
A redistricting board is appointed every 10 years to redo boundaries of 40 state House districts based on population shifts documented by the U.S. Census. Two House districts make up a Senate district.
The Alaska Constitution specifies that House districts must be compact and contiguous. They must include people of similar socio-economic status.
The Alaska Supreme Court ruled the board's plan last year was unconstitutional. The board, the court said, placed U.S. Voting Rights Act requirements ahead of Alaska Constitution requirements.
The U.S. Supreme Court this week nullified parts of the Voting Rights Act and the law will be much simpler as the board moves forward, White said.
The five-member board is dominated by four Republicans. In some of the seven new plans created by the board, Republican incumbents are paired against each other.
State Democrats did not submit a plan and remain suspicious of the board. They say the interim plan, used for the 2012 election, cost Democrats control of the state Senate, resulting in Republican domination of both houses.
Kevin Fields, spokesman for the Alaska Democratic Party, said the board's large number of possible configurations has made public comment almost useless.
"Anytime you do a map, there are trade-offs, especially when you're trying to have some degree of contiguity, and communities of interest. Why not lay that out from the start and let the public comment on it? Instead, what they've done is say, 'Hey, anything is possible,'" Fields said. "It's sort of like a bureaucratic pathology — present so many options that in the end you can ignore all the public comments and just do whatever you wanted to do from the start."
White said the new districts were configured without preconceptions or consideration of current lawmakers. Mapping software the board used factored in population and municipal boundaries.
"There's a layer you can provide that puts in the incumbent locations into the maps — they didn't even turn that on. It was not a consideration in doing their draft plans," White said.
Information from: Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.adn.com