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Alaska's redistricting plan gets tentative OK from Feds

Eric Christopher Adams

Alaska's redistricting board has cleared a major hurdle: the federal government says its proposal to redraw state political boundaries does not violate the voting strength of Alaska Natives or other minority groups.

"This is an important milestone … and a necessary step before Alaska's new legislative districts can be implemented," Taylor Bickford, executive director of the Alaska Redistricting Board, said Tuesday afternoon. "From day one, we were drawing plans with the understanding that we had to receive federal preclearance."

"Preclearance" is legalese for making sure redistricting efforts don't violate The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Alaska is one of nine states required under the law to submit redistricting plans to the federal government. When the Voting Rights Act was established, these states (including Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia) were subject to "special enforcement provisions" because the Congress then believed "the potential for (racial or minority) discrimination to be the greatest."

The redistricting board received a letter Tuesday from the Department of Justice that said Attorney General Eric Holder saw no reason to object to the plan.
With this obstacle removed, all that's left to prevent the redistricting plan from adoption is the state litigation process, Bickford said.

Currently, at least three lawsuits fall into that realm: one filed by the city of Petersburg; one brought by the Fairbanks North Star Borough, and another from two Fairbanks borough residents.

Bickford said that a trial date of Jan. 9, 2012 had been set to determine "state constitutionality" of the redistricting plan, based on the three lawsuits filed. But a tentative OK from the Feds should bolster the plan's legality in state court, he added.

If the map holds up in court, every state senator elected to a four-year term just last year (except Juneau's Dennis Egan) will have to run again in 2012. In other words, 59 of 60 legislators will be running for office next year due to redistricting.

Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, earlier this summer told Alaska Dispatch he expected "significant turnover (in the Legislature) in 2012."

Contact Eric Christopher Adams at eric(at)alaskadispatch.com