Alaska Supreme Court explains ruling against redistricting board’s alleged gerrymandering

The Alaska Supreme Court is showing its might in efforts to keep partisan politics out of the redistricting process.
Published: Apr. 25, 2023 at 8:59 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Supreme Court is showing its might in efforts to keep partisan politics out of the redistricting process.

For the second time in a little more than a year, the highest court in Alaska concluded that proposed redistricting maps in Eagle River and South Anchorage are unconstitutional, ruling Friday that a proposed redistricting map in Eagle River is unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering — essentially drawing political districts in a way that benefits or undermines a political party’s representation.

In Friday’s ruling, the Alaska Supreme Court further clarified that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional under Alaska law. The 144-page decision includes strong language against the Alaska Redistricting Board’s efforts to combine Eagle River’s Senate district with parts of Anchorage, writing that the board “engaged in unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering to increase one group’s Senate district voting power at the expense of others.”

Alaska Redistricting Board member Nicole Borromeo said she’s relieved by the state Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the use of the proposed map.

“This is some of the strongest language against gerrymandering in the country, and the Supreme Court of Alaska has made it very clear that partisan gerrymandering will not be tolerated by future boards, or by this one, and that we have 89 days (from Monday) to prove why the interim plan can’t become the final plan,” Borromeo said.

Friday’s Supreme Court decision also follows a 2021 lawsuit that argued an Alaska redistricting board map, put forth by the Redistricting Board, would magnify the political influence of Eagle River and dilute the influence of East Anchorage voters, in part, by pairing sections of Eagle River with East Anchorage. The Alaska Supreme Court also struck down that map as part of what it considers “unconstitutional political gerrymander.”

Despite repeated issues, Alaska Redistricting Board Chairman John Binkley said the board has worked against the possibility of gerrymandering with all of its redistricting efforts.

“We tried to go out of our way not to make it political gerrymandering,” Binkley said. “Fairness is always in the eye of the beholder. Some people liked it, some people don’t, but in the end, it’s the Supreme Court that matters.”

While Binkley was one of the board members who originally voted for the redistricting map that the Supreme Court is rejecting, he said that he later voted for the interim map that the Supreme Court approved of.

Borromeo has opposed the maps that the high court has accused of gerrymandering through the entire process, she said. Both Borromeo and Binkley agree that Friday’s Supreme Court decision will lay the groundwork to help strengthen decisions made by the Alaska Redistricting Board moving forward.

“The Supreme Court decision last Friday made it crystal clear that the Alaska redistricting process should be void of partisan reconsiderations when drawing our legislative districts,” Borromeo said. “Their language is strong. It is clear and it doesn’t leave any room for interpretation.”

The Alaska Supreme Court gave the Redistricting Board 90 days from Friday to respond to its decision.