Denali Borough Redistricting Proposals on November Ballot
Denali Borough voters will have two redistricting plans to choose from on the ballot November 8th. New district boundaries have been drawn to reflect population changes documented by the 2010 federal census. In one proposal, the entire Denali Borough would be one large district, with 7 representatives chosen from anywhere in the district. In a second proposal, a new district would be created for the area including the Rex Bridge along the Parks Highway, Ferry, and residences along the Stampede Road. In both proposals, Assembly members would be chosen by all borough residents.
Both options on this year’s ballot will be “at-large” voting. All Denali Borough voters will have the opportunity to vote for each assembly seat.From the Denali Borough Website:
The Denali Borough Assembly selected and approved two separate reapportionment plans to be presented to the voters to reapportion the Denali Borough Assembly districts and seats. The voters are requested to approve one of the two reapportionment plans as set forth in the ordinances below:
Ordinance 11-16: Reapportions the Denali Borough Assembly districts by eliminating geographical representative districts and reducing the number of assembly seats from nine (9) to seven (7). Ordinance 11-16 calls for at-large representation and at-large voting. The ordinance does not require that Assembly candidates reside in a particular district as the entire population of the Denali Borough would be represented as a single district.
Ordinance 11-18: Reapportions the four existing Denali Borough Assembly districts into five (5) new representation districts, but it also calls for at large voting, meaning that all residents of the Borough vote for all candidates. The number of Assembly seats would remain the same at nine (9) seats. The ordinance does require Assembly candidates to reside in one of five districts which are comprised of specifically identified 2010 U.S. Census blocks.
The Borough is required to adjust its district boundaries every ten years to incorporate new census data and ensure that voters are represented equally. After the borough assembly reviewed the new data it declared the borough malapportioned, a situation in which the number of residents of a district is disproportionate to the number of representatives. Currently, the northernmost district including Anderson has three representatives, but the population has declined so that only two are needed. The central district, which includes Healy, currently has four representatives, but its population demands five. Both proposals, creating one large district or five proportionate districts, would resolve this issue.
The US Department of Justice will review any reapportionment plan the borough passes to ensure that the plan does not violate the federal Voting Rights Act. According to the Act, no changes to election practices may deny or abridge voting rights on account of race, color or status as a member of a language minority. The minority group must be large, cohesive and vote as a bloc. The Act also prohibits retrogression, which is drawing a district in a manner that worsens minority voting strength as compared to the previous district configuration.
The Native Community of Cantwell is protected under the Voting Rights Act, so Mayor Dave Talerico sought the advice of the borough’s attorney. In a letter to the Mayor, attorney Jim Gorski briefly analyzed the current voting demographics with regards to the Voting Rights Act, and advised that “The record seems to suggest that the racial demographics of the Borough are such that the at-large voting does not materially affect any groups’ rights to a fair and effective representational vote as guaranteed by the Alaska and federal constitutions.”
Jeremy Johnson, Local Government Specialist for the State of Alaska, came to the Borough Assembly meeting in September in his capacity as an adviser to the borough. He stated “I am encouraging the borough to do two things, reduce the number of assembly seats and have all assembly seats be elected at-large as opposed to districts.”
Johnson continued, “Based on the population of the borough a nine-member assembly, nine-member school board, and nine-member planning commission are difficult to support. The population does not justify the number of elected officials; there is too great of a public service demand on the residents. Supporting this claim is the fact that the Assembly Advisory Committee which includes the Ethics Committee (5 seats), does not have members. The Denali Borough Trails Committee fails to get enough members for a quorum. It is been my observation that the Denali Borough has spread itself too thin.”
Mr. Johnson also cited in his letter the increased burden of maintaining multiple districts, such as preparing separate ballots and precinct registers at election time, as well as reapportioning the districts every ten years.
Since the Denali Borough was formed in 1990, voters from Anderson, Healy, and Cantwell have chosen representatives from among their own communities. The McKinley Village area was allotted its own representative after the 2000 census.