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Redistricting: It's part of democracy

Posted: Friday, January 18, 2002

Editor's Note: The League of Women Voters periodically submits articles describing its positions on relevant topics and rationale for taking them and informational articles, such as this one, geared to helping citizens better understand government. The League is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.

What's the big deal about redistricting? Not interested? Boring? Why all the controversy by some Alaskans?

Every 20 years communities across the United States have the potential to change electoral politics. Based on the latest U.S. Census, taken once each decade, district boundary lines are redrawn. Populations shift. For instance, Texas, Florida and Arizona are growing; New York and Pennsylvania are losing population. All levels of government are included in the exercise from city councils to U.S. congressional districts.

How the lines are drawn can determine which party gains control in the next election. Newly created boundaries can turn once friendly incumbents into adversaries when they find themselves relegated to the same district. To comply with the law, state and local government must differ no more than 10 percent in district size.

Even more demanding, U.S. House districts must be essentially equal. In order to prevent racial, ethnic or language discrimination, lines must not dilute minority voting strength. This may occur when concentrated minority populations are divided.

Due to a history of discrimination and the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, Alaska is one of seven states, which must submit for review any change in law that could affect voting. Portions of 10 other states must comply by also sending changes to either the Department of Justice or the Federal District Court in the District of Columbia.

When determining boundaries, districts are required to be compact and contiguous; political subdivisions are to be respected; communities of interest are to be preserved. The Alaska Constitution provides for a five-member redistricting board: two members appointed by the governor, one by the Supreme Court chief justice, one by the Senate president and one by the House speaker.

Redistricting hearings are open to the public. The process is anything but boring, simple or insignificant.

Redistricting is an intricate part of democracy by helping to create plans that afford all voters an equal opportunity to take part in a priceless process.

Marge Hays is the vice president of the Kenai Peninsula League of Women Voters and past state president of the Alaska League of Women Voters.



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