The Alaska Redistricting Board on Tuesday approved a final roster of six new proposals for redrawing the state's legislative districts that the board will use in setting a redistricting plan for the next 10 years.
Each of the approved maps — two drawn by board members, four submitted by third-party organizations — would substantially redraw Southeast Alaska's legislative districts to account for population changes over the past decade.
The six proposals offer a wide range of perspectives on how to represent Ketchikan in the state Legislature; so wide a range that there are no community pairings consistent between all six of the proposed district maps.
Depending on how the redistricting board proceeds, Saxman, Metlakatla, Wrangell, Petersburg, Wrangell, Hyder or Prince of Wales Island communities could be voting in different legislative districts when the board decides on a final redistricting plan in the next six weeks.
After every U.S. Census, each state redraws its legislative boundaries to more accurately reflect where people live and to ensure that all residents are fairly represented in state and federal government.
In Alaska, each legislative district is supposed to contain, "as nearly as practicable," one-fortieth of the state's overall population, per the state constitution: one district for each of the 40 seats in the state House.
According to the 2020 census results, the state population now stands at 733,391, meaning each district would ideally represent 18,335 people.
The state constitution holds that "each house district shall be formed of contiguous and compact territory containing as nearly as practicable a relatively integrated socio-economic area." But the districts representing rural, spread-out communities like those in Southeast Alaska often span hundreds of miles in order to group enough people together to represent one-fortieth of the state's residents.
More people live in most of Southeast Alaska's existing districts today than lived in them a decade ago, according to census data, but because they didn't grow as quickly as the rest of the state, more people — and hence, more communities — need to be included in Southeast Alaska's new legislative districts to ensure that Southeast Alaskans are represented fairly in the state Legislature.
That's why one of the only commonalities between all six map proposals is that the northernmost boundary of Southeast Alaska's districts has pushed up the panhandle to include Yakutat. (The region's four current legislative districts include all of the Alaska Panhandle far enough north to include most of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.)
The redistricting board
The redistricting board consists of five members appointed by the governor, the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, the speaker of the state House of Representatives and the state Senate majority leader. The governor gets to appoint two board members; each other position gets to appoint one member.
For this redistricting cycle, Gov. Dunleavy appointed Bethany Marcum, a former aide and the CEO of the conservative think tank Alaska Policy Forum, and Budd Simpson, a Juneau lawyer.
Former House Speaker Bryce Edgmon appointed Nicole Borromeo, the executive vice president and general counsel for the Alaska Federation of Natives.
Former Senate President Cathy Giessel appointed former legislator and Ward Cove Dock Group President John Binkley to the board.
And Chief Justice Joel Borger picked Melanie Bahnke, the president and CEO of the Nome-based nonprofit Kawerak.
Constructing on a map
The board will ultimately be responsible for selecting a final map. In order to better understand the needs and concerns of residents, it's important for the board to hear local perspectives on redistricting proposals as much as possible, Binkley explained in a Thursday phone call with the Daily News.
Binkley, who is the board chair, explained that the board approved six maps to showcase different perspectives on how legislative boundaries might be redrawn.
"We want an opportunity for other groups to be able to put forward their ideas to the people of Alaska," said Binkley. "We realize that there's a lot of different ways that maps can be drawn, and so we think it's good for the public to ... be exposed to different ideas on how it could be drawn, (to) be able to get their comments on those."
In order to solicit feedback from the public, board members are planning to travel to at least 20 communities across the state in October to hear feedback on the map proposals.
After hearing from the public, Binkley said, the board will work on crafting a final redistricting map from the proposals.
"I'd be surprised if the board accepted an entire third-party plan," he explained. "More than likely, ... the final plan will be a combination of all the plans that are out there. It's just a way to start the discussion with the public."
The board's maps
The two board-drawn maps that the board approved earlier this week, titled Map Version 3 and Map Version 4, were drawn by Marcum and Borromeo respectively. Despite their names, both maps are standalone, complete proposals: Version 4 is not an "improved" or "refined" version of Version 3, and neither are necessarily evolutions of the draft Map Versions 1 and 2 that the board approved several weeks ago.
The board proposals are nearly identical in their approach to representing Ketchikan and Sitka, save a slightly straighter border near the Tracy Arm.
Under both board proposals, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Saxman, Metlakatla and Hyder would all be represented by House District 1.
And both maps would have all of Prince of Wales Island's communities represented in the proposed District 2 rather than being split between two districts, as is the case currently. Those communities would share their representative with Sitka, Petersburg and Yakutat.
Where the two board maps differ, however, is in their division of Juneau, which is currently split into a downtown district that also represents Haines and Skagway, and a Mendenhall Valley district.
Marcum's Map Version 3 would include Haines and Skagway in the Mendenhall Valley-centered district and would put downtown Juneau in a district with no other major communities. Those two districts would be closer to the same geographic size than they are under the current division scheme.
Borromeo's proposal, Version 4, would instead split the Juneau-Haines-Skagway area into a large district representing downtown Juneau, Douglas, Haines, Skagway and Gustavus and a comparatively tiny district centered around Juneau's Mendenhall Valley and Juneau International Airport.
The third-party groups
In addition to those proposals, the redistricting board on Tuesday approved redistricting maps from four third-party groups:
The Alaska Legislature's Senate Minority Caucus, a group of six Democratic senators.
An Alaska Native coalition being led by Doyon Ltd. that the board's website refers to as the "Doyon Coalition." Its members include the Tanana Chiefs Conference, the Fairbanks Native Association, Sealaska and Ahtna Inc.
Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, an organization with ties to organized labor, public interest and Alaska Native groups. AFFR is chaired by Joelle Hall, the leader of the Alaska AFL-CIO.
Alaskans for Fair and Equitable Redistricting, a Republican-oriented group that includes Randy Ruedrich, the former chairman of the Alaska Republican Party.
The board also heard a map proposal from the Alaska Democratic Party last week but ultimately rejected it. (Binkley and Bahnke both voted to adopt that plan.)
Senate Minority Caucus
The map presented by the Senate Minority Caucus is similar to the current district map for Southeast Alaska — even down to its numbering scheme.
Unlike the other five maps that the board approved, the Senate Minority Caucus map would maintain the numbering of Southeast Alaska's legislative districts. Under the Senate proposal, Ketchikan would be represented by House District 36, Sitka would be in District 35, and Juneau would account for the majority of the population in Districts 33 and 34, just as they are numbered right now.
The Senate map also would make few changes to District 33, which represent the Mendenhall Valley, and to District 36 compared to the current districts.
District 36 still would encompass the southern half of Prince of Wales Island, including Craig, and would include Metlakatla, Saxman and Hydaburg in addition to Ketchikan. Wrangell instead would be represented by District 35 along with Sitka, Petersburg and Yakutat.
District 33, which currently includes the Mendenhall Valley and Juneau International Airport, would remain virtually unchanged under the Senate map.
But District 34, which includes downtown Juneau, Haines and Skagway, would grow south to include all of Admiralty Island as well.
The Doyon Coalition map would use the numbering conventions of the other proposals. District 1 (which would include Ketchikan) would be longer under the Doyon proposal, at 250 miles, than in any of the other proposals. The district would include Wrangell, Ketchikan, Saxman, Metlakatla and Hyder, stretching north and hugging the mainland border with Canada until stopping at the City and Borough of Juneau's boundary near the Whiting River.
The Doyon proposal would put Petersburg in District 2, which also would include Sitka, Yakutat and all of Prince of Wales Island. It essentially would not alter what is currently District 34, the Mendenhall Valley district in Juneau, except by renaming it to District 3.
The proposed District 4 under that map also would not change much from that region's district in its current form. It still would include downtown Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Gustavus, but in order to accommodate District 2's unbroken connection to Yakutat, District 3 only would extend as far as Gustavus, not to the Gulf of Alaska.
The AFFR map, in its proposals for District 2 and District 4, would make the most drastic revisions to Southeast Alaska's district map.
Rather than including Haines and Skagway with either of Juneau's districts as every other proposed redistricting map would do, the AFFR map instead groups Haines and Skagway into District 2, the same district as Sitka, Yakutat and Craig.
With Haines and Skagway already accounted for, downtown Juneau's District 4 would maneuver south to include Petersburg, Port Protection and Hollis.
AFFR's proposals for Districts 1 and 3 are much tamer comparatively.
District 1 would include all of Ketchikan, Saxman, Wrangell, Metlakatla and Hyder under the AFFR proposal. District 1 also would include Thorne Bay on Prince of Wales Island, though Saltchuck and Kasaan would remain in District 2.
Like the Doyon proposal, the AFFR map would essentially leave the current Mendenhall Valley district unaltered and rename it District 3.
The AFFER map would group Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg into District 1, but Saxman, Metlakatla and Mountain Point would be grouped together into District 2 with Sitka, Yakutat, Hyder and all of Prince of Wales Island.
It's quite similar to the first two draft maps that the board approved two weeks ago, which lumped portions of Saxman and Mountain Point — as well as the house of Ketchikan Rep. Dan Ortiz — into the district containing Sitka, not Ketchikan's district.
The board blamed that anomaly on a "software glitch" and revised later maps to include those locations in District 1. But the AFFER map shows that at least one organization is looking to continue pursuing a map that puts Saxman and Mountain Point voters in a separate district. (The AFFER map would include Ortiz's house in Ketchikan's district.)
Under the AFFER map, District 2 also would be nearly identical to the District 2 borders proposed in the first two draft maps, stretching about 600 miles from Yakutat down the outer islands and wrapping over and around Revillagigedo Island to include Metlakatla and Hyder.
Additionally, the borders for Districts 3 and 4 — the Juneau-Haines-Skagway districts — proposed in the AFFER map are nearly identical to the borders proposed by Board Member Bethany Marcum's Map Version 3.
Binkley in a Wednesday phone interview said the board was tentatively planning to hold a public meeting in Ketchikan to hear thoughts on the map proposals on Oct. 5. That's when Ketchikan's local elections will be held taking place.
In a Thursday phone call, he said the board was instead leaning toward an Oct. 6 meeting date instead — though that date was still tentative, he said.
Once the board has heard from communities, it will convene later this fall to decide on a final redistricting map. It must decide on a final map by Nov. 10.
But the final map will almost certainly be a subject of intense legal scrutiny from all sides, and could be redrawn if it is ruled unconstitutional.
The redistricting board's maps can be read in full on the board website at akredistrict.org.
Public comment can be submitted for any of the map proposals at any time on the board's website.