JUNEAU (AP) -- The Alaska Redistricting Board remained divided along partisan lines as it met Monday to plan its strategy in the wake of a March 21 Alaska Supreme Court ruling that struck down much of its work.
The five-member panel, which met by teleconference, decided to hold a face-to-face meeting in Juneau April 12 to work toward a new map, even though the board doesn't have enough money left to convene that session. A deadline of April 9 was set for outside groups to submit suggested maps.
Republican appointee Michael Lessmeier, a Juneau attorney, suggested that the board conduct its business by consensus from now on.
''I think we have an opportunity to rise above politics, partisan politics, and do something no other board has done in this state,'' Lessmeier said. ''We would be setting the stage, setting the mark for every future board if we did this.''
But Julian Mason of Anchorage, part of a three-member majority that approved the previous map, noted that the constitution requires only a three-vote majority for board action.
''I prefer to stick with the constitution,'' Mason said.
The board voted 3-2 against consensus decisions. Lessmeier offered another motion to require a 4-1 supermajority for board action, and that also was defeated 3-2.
Without an appropriation from the Legislature, the board doesn't have the money to hold the April 12 meeting, said Gordon Harrison, the board's executive director. The meeting could stretch more than one day, he said.
''We need a supplemental appropriation by the middle of this month, or we're out of business,'' Harrison said. The board has requested a total of $454,000 to finish its work.
If the board can't meet, ''Do we then just send it back to the courts and let them fix it?'' asked chair Vicki Otte of Anchorage.
''We'll just have to live day-to-day, and deal with these situations as they develop,'' said Philip Volland, the board's attorney.
Volland said the groups who sued the board will be entitled to reimbursement of attorney's fees because they filed the lawsuits as public interest plaintiffs.
''I would expect them to be in the millions of dollars, because 10 years ago they were at least a million,'' he said.
The deadline for completing the final redistricting plan is June 1, which is also the filing deadline for state offices.
Complicating matters is the requirement that the U.S. Department of Justice ''pre-clear'' proposed boundary changes to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act.
Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, who oversees elections, said last week that pre-clearance normally takes 60 days. Even with an expedited process, a 30-day review seems likely, Ulmer said. That would give the board just this month to come up with a new plan.
Ulmer noted that in 1992, after the last redistricting, the primary election was moved to September. The worst-case scenario this year, she said, is a delay in both the filing deadline and the primary, now scheduled for Aug. 27.
The Supreme Court sent the issue back to the board with a mandate for lower deviations in Anchorage districts from the ideal House district population of 15,673. The court also said an Eagle River House seat was drawn in a ''non-compact'' fashion and ordered the board to reconsider a district that pairs Valdez with part of Anchorage.
The court said the northernmost district drawn by the board contained too few people, and called for the board to take another look at House District 5, spanning a long string of towns from small Southeast villages to Cordova near Prince William Sound, and splitting Prince of Wales Island. That district should be made more compact or the board should make a stronger statement that the shape is required to ensure that minority voting strength isn't diluted, the court said.
Under the plan overturned by the court, up to 20 Republican incumbents would have faced each other in this year's primary election.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.