By Larry Persily
Working to carve up Alaska into 40 legislative districts of approximately equal population, a state board has released its draft maps based on the 2020 U.S. Census that move Wrangell, Petersburg and Ketchikan into the same House district.
Wrangell has shared a district with Ketchikan the past decade, while Petersburg has been part of the Sitka district.
Population shifts, particularly increases in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, forced the Alaska Redistricting Board to move boundaries across the state to keep legislative districts roughly equal in population size.
The combined population of Wrangell, Petersburg and Ketchikan is 19,473, according to the census count, a little more than one-40th of the state.
The southern Southeast House district would share a state senator with the Sitka district, the same as it does now.
Under the draft plan, the Sitka House district would stretch 600 miles from Metlakatla to Yakutat and include Kake, Hoonah, Angoon, Gustavus, Pelican, Elfin Cove, Prince of Wales Island and Hyder. That would pull Yakutat out of the Prince William Sound district, where it has resided the past decade.
It also would pull Metlakatla, Prince of Wales Island and Hyder out of the district they have shared with Ketchikan.
Much of Juneau would be its own House district, while the northern portion of Juneau would be joined with Haines and Skagway in a separate district. The map, however, includes a small carve-out with a big political implication.
In redrawing the boundary lines for the two House seats that include Juneau, board members put two incumbents into the same district — a frequent outcome in the political process. The redistricting board went outside the straight lines — grabbing one side of the street but not the other — to pull Rep. Andi Story into the same district as Rep. Sarah Hannan.
If the jigsaw map is adopted and upheld, Story and Hannan would have to run against each other, or one of the lawmakers could choose to move into the other district — or leave the job. Both are Democrats in their second term.
The board has adopted two draft maps for public comment. The five-person board last week agreed on most boundaries across Alaska but could not agree on the line between the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Anchorage. Where the line is drawn would have ripple effects into Anchorage, reshaping some districts there.
Rather than trying to decide the issue immediately, members adopted two draft maps for further review.
Proposed maps from third-parties, such as political parties, Native corporations and others, were due week. The board will decide on which draft maps to take on a statewide tour of public meetings later in September and into October, with a Nov. 10 deadline to adopt a final map.
Multiple lawsuits over district boundaries are common after a final map is adopted. If the anticipated litigation can be settled in time, the new boundaries would take effect for the 2022 legislative elections.
The state constitution says districts should be “contiguous and compact territory containing as nearly as practicable a relatively integrated socio-economic area.” Board members last week disagreed about whether Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are integrated or whether districts should stop at borough boundaries, as they agreed should happen with Fairbanks.
The redistricting board includes two members appointed by the governor, one each appointed by the state House speaker and Senate president, and one appointed by the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court.
State and federal law requires redrawing legislative boundaries after every census.
“This is a dynamic process, where it will be evolving and changing as we get input from the public, on what they see in these maps and other people’s opinions,” said board chair John Binkley.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.