Release of census figures marks start of redistricting effort

Posted: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Armed with figures from the 2000 Census, the Alaska Redistricting Board has 30 days to draft a new political map for the state.

The five-member panel must come up with a plan to create 40 legislative districts of equal size, with each one representing approximately 15,673 people.

''There are legal standards about how far we can deviate from this target size for all districts. I think it's plus or minus 10 percent,'' said Gordon Harrison, executive director of the redistricting board. ''Larger deviations require some good reason.''

Harrison said the redistricting board is likely to come up with more than one draft proposal by the April 19 deadline. The panel will then take public comment on the proposals for 60 days before issuing a final plan.

The census figures released Monday indicate rural areas are likely to lose political influence while Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough will probably see increased representation in the Legislature.

Several districts have fallen well below the target size while three districts in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough have swelled to more than 20,000 residents.

During the coming weeks, the board will have to find a way to balance the principle of one man, one vote against the federal Voting Rights Act, which requires the preservation of minority districts, where possible.

The board will meet Monday in Juneau and plans public hearings in Anchorage and Fairbanks, Harrison said.

''It gives people one more shot to say what they like or don't like about existing districts and if they have any proposed solutions,'' Harrison said.

Whatever plan the board comes up with is likely to face a legal challenge from those who find themselves on the losing side. Because the legal challenges can go on for years, the courts have drawn up interim plans for the elections immediately following the census.

''That happened in 1992. It happened in 1972,'' Harrison said. ''It's the nature of this thing that not everybody can be pleased and you can always find some issue to sue on.''

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