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Anchorage Assembly approves new voting district map, special election to fill new 12th seat

Published: Mar. 24, 2022 at 4:33 PM AKDT|Updated: Mar. 24, 2022 at 6:46 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In the culmination of months of work and input from the community, the Anchorage Assembly voted Wednesday night to approve a new voting district map for the municipality, as well as set the process for how to fill the assembly’s new 12th seat.

In a 9-2 vote, the assembly passed an ordinance that reapportions the Anchorage election districts. Before it was approved, the ordinance was amended and the assembly voted 8-3 to substitute an amended district map from Vice-Chair Christopher Constant. It replaced the original Map 11 Version 2 that had been included in the measure, pushed forward by member John Weddleton.

“The primary changes are that it moves West High School back into the West Anchorage district. It moves East High School back into the East Anchorage district, and it did effectively split one neighborhood which didn’t want to be split, which was Airport Heights,” Constant said on Thursday. “But it didn’t split it on an unusual boundary. It split it on the census tract boundary, which is actually the natural divide of that area.”

Assembly members Meg Zaletel and Felix Rivera cast the two no votes against the reapportionment ordinance.

“I wish there was a map in which all things could have been done for all people,” Constant said when introducing his second amended map. “This process forces choices, and this is a forced choice test and the test tonight is, which map shall we pick? And so this map works really hard to maintain the integrity of neighborhoods as best as possible, to maintain the schools in their namesake districts, to expand my district enough so that we can take the next step, which is to move the special election to add the 12th member.”

The new map expands District 1 across the north side of Anchorage. The district was previously about half the size of the city’s other districts.

Zaletel and Rivera had also brought forward their own amended map, which was voted down before the amended version from Constant was approved. At Wednesday’s meeting Rivera said the amended map they had put forward,One it keeps U-Med intact and within Midtown, and two it keeps Airport Heights intact.”

Constant’s approved amended map does split Airport Heights, and it does not keep the University Medical District intact. It splits that area between the Midtown and East Anchorage district.

“They had a number of concerns that were valid,” Constant said Thursday. “They’re in the central part of town, and because they’re Midtown and connected to all the other districts, they are subject to more of that ‘push me, pull you’ effect.”

Weddleton said he feels the reapportionment committee for the most part achieved its goal of keeping communities together.

“These boundaries have changed over the years and it’s really not good to be too married to any specific lines,” Weddleton said Thursday. “... It was more dramatic because we’re adding a 12th member so District 1 had to expand substantially.”

One of Constant’s amendments to the ordinance was to change the name of District 1 from “Downtown” to “North Anchorage,” and specify that it will now have two members representing it on the assembly. Voters approved a charter amendment in 2020 that allows for the addition of a second assembly seat in what will now be known as the North Anchorage district.

Other amendments included changing the name of District 2, which was originally “Chugiak/Eagle River” to “District 2, Chugiak, Eagle River, JBER,” and changing “District 6, South Anchorage” to now be named “District 6, South Anchorage, Girdwood, and Turnagain Arm.”

District 3, long referred to as Midtown, was also changed from “Central Anchorage” to “Midtown” in the city code.

The new voting district map will apply to all municipal elections that come after the upcoming April 5 election.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the assembly unanimously passed a resolution that declares the process to fill that new seat, which will involve a by-mail special election on June 21. Assembly member Crystal Kennedy asked whether that might be too close to the statewide special primary election set for June 11 to fill the late Rep. Don Young’s seat in Congress.

“I don’t see any problem,” said Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones. “... I think that’s plenty of time separation. This is one district in Anchorage, so it’s a smaller election.”

According to the resolution, the 12th assembly seat will be known as Seat L, and the deadline to file for that office is 5 p.m. on May 10. In order to align the new seat with the assembly’s established structure of staggered terms, the first full term for Seat L will begin after the April 2025 regular election. However, “in fairness to the voters within the new District 1 boundaries,” the resolution sets up a special election so that the seat can be filled sooner by what will technically be considered a partial term.

Speaking just before the resolution passed, Constant recalled serving on the community council for Fairview back in 2012, before he was an assembly member. He spoke of how Fairview struggled to overcome “systemic problems” that have challenged the neighborhood “for more than half a decade.”

“And at every turn, the problem almost always ended with, we have one and everyone else has two,” he said.

Constant said he started “agitating” for the question of giving District 1 a second seat when he was elected to the assembly.

“The vote before us resolves a longstanding inequity,” he said. “Your vote yes on this question is a vote for justice.”

The filing period for candidates for the new District 1 seat opens at 8 a.m. on May 3, according to the ordinance.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional details and quotes.

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