Anchorage begins “reapportionment” of Assembly districts

The passage of Prop 12 has triggered the redrawing of Assembly districts in Alaska’s largest city

Now that the Alaska Redistricting Board has adopted the final House and Senate maps, the city of Anchorage will undergo a similar process of redistricting called “reapportionment”. Municipal charter requires the Assembly to determine within two months of finalization of the state redistricting plan if the current districts need to be realigned.

This is what the current Assembly districts look like:

Anchorage Reapportionment, explained

Although redistricting and reapportionment are two separate processes, there is overlap between the municipality’s process and the state’s. Both will utilize population and demographic data released by the 2020 Census. Like the State Constitution, Anchorage’s municipal charter requires that districts be drawn with consideration to compactness, contiguousness, relative socioeconomic integration, and districts of equal population (Anchorage Charter 4.01). Anchorage’s Assembly districts must also abide by the Voting Rights Act, which protects from racial gerrymandering.

Similarities aside, there are two notable differences between the way state and municipal boundaries must be redrawn:

The process is overseen by the Reapportionment Committee on the Anchorage Assembly, rather than an independently-appointed board.

The Reapportionment Committee is made up of Christopher Constant (Assembly Chair, District 1, Downtown), Pete Peterson (District 4, East Anchorage), Crystal Kennedy (District 2, Eagle River-Chugiak), and Austin Quinn-Davidson (District 3, West Anchorage).

The Assembly has contracted local software and GIS consulting company Resource Data to draw the new Assembly districts and offer extensive support for public input.

Here is the Assembly resolution declaring the current districts “malapportioned“, meaning they must be redrawn.

Reapportionment isn’t required to happen every 10 years like state redistricting

Under the city charter, reapportionment is only required when there is a total population deviation of over 10% between all six districts in the municipality. This is determined by dividing the city’s population by the number of districts to get the target population, then calculating the difference between the lowest and highest deviation between districts whose deviation is less or more than 5% of the target population. Here’s an example from the last reapportionment process:

District2010 PopulationTargetDeviationDiff
1 (Downtown)25,86126,530-2.5%-669
2 (Eagle River-Chugiak)54,97453,0593.6%1,915
3 (West)51,06653,059-3.8%-1,993
4 (Midtown)53,67653,0591.2%617
5 (East)50,30353,059-5.2%-2,756
6 (South-Girdwood)55,94653,0595.4%2,887
The difference between the lowest (-5.2%) and highest (5.4%) deviations was 10.6%, triggering reapportionment. Note, only deviations plus or minus 5% are counted.

Note that Downtown has a different population target because the muni rotates one district that elects a single member as opposed to two, causing its target population to be half the rest of the Assembly districts.

This changed with the passage of Ballot Proposition 12, which adds an additional member to the body, giving all six districts two representatives. The proposition was approved overwhelmingly by Anchorage voters in 2020 by a margin of +19%. Just one precinct voted against it (East Dowling in Midtown, which leans conservative). Vice Chair Christopher Constant, the sole Downtown rep on the Assembly, was the main voice behind the campaign. Adding one more member changes the population targets for each district now that the city’s population must be divided by 6 districts (12 full members) instead of 5.5 seats (11 members).

With new Census population counts and Prop 12 changing the math, each new district should have as close to 48,541 people as possible. Here’s the current districts shaded by the deviation from the target population:

Total deviation of 92.81% after Prop 12 and new population changes

As you can see from the map above, the new Downtown district is severely underpopulated will need to add 21.7k people to create a full district. It will do so by grabbing population from surrounding districts, which will cause each of them to shrink in size.

For fun, here’s an example of redrawn districts, which you can view in greater detail here:

What to watch for during the process

The Alaska Redistricting Board was accused throughout the process for drawing partisan maps, and will likely see their Senate map in court by next spring over accusations of racial gerrymandering. This begs the question: what potential does the Anchorage reapportionment process have for abuse?

It’s not as if the Assembly is unilaterally drawing the districts they run under. The Assembly contracted Resource Data to provide both redistricting services as well as provide alternative map plans. It’s not yet clear how involved members of the Reapportionment Committee will be in making changes themselves, but the public proposal indicates that Resource Data will render maps based on feedback from the committee, community organizations, and the public. The Assembly has the final vote, but the city’s contract provides little space for them to steamroll the process.

As a caveat, the small influence Assembly members are likely to have is more localized and detailed than that of the Alaska Redistricting Boards. The Board continually emphasized that they didn’t know where incumbent legislators lived, and thus couldn’t possibly be accused of intentionally packing incumbents into districts to tilt the scales in elections. It’s hard to believe thats the case for Assembly members living in the same city as each other.

In the same vein, Alaska’s statewide and legislative elections are hard to analyze without a little bit of work due to our lack of precinct-level reporting. Assembly members know Anchorage’s neighborhoods extremely well and have detailed precinct-level results from local elections to analyze their habits. Assuming I’m underestimating how much influence the Reapportionment Committee will have on the final map, these members are in theory well-positioned to make their own partisan recommendations.

Timeline for reapportionmenT

The Reapportionment Committee has proposed the following timeline:

Date Deadline
Nov 23Committee Meeting: timeline and communications review
Nov 23Assembly Meeting: declaration of Malapportionment AR/AM
Dec 9Committee Meeting: draft plans are presented as available
Dec 29Draft maps released
Jan 20Deadline for
submission of third-party maps
Jan 26Town Hall (Virtual)
Jan 27Town Hall (In Person @ Loussac)
Jan 28Committee Meeting: review Town Hall feedback
Feb 15Assembly Meeting: introduce proposed plan
Feb 24Assembly Meeting: 1st public hearing
Feb 25Assembly Work session
May 2022The approved map and election of the 12th seat will take effect after April 2022
This timeline is an update from the Committee’s initial proposal, which was revised after a delay in getting the draft maps to the public.
What does this mean for the 2022 Anchorage municipal races on April 5th?

Nothing. For reapportionment to apply to the upcoming muni elections, the final maps would have to be fully completed by December 10th, following a notice of vacancy due Jan 9. Thus, barring court litigation, the new boundaries will be ready for a full municipal cycle in April of 2023.

However, the new Downtown seat that was added by Prop 12 will likely see a special election under the new district as soon as May 2022.

What can the public do to stay involved and help keep the process accountable?
  • Attend committee meetings, which are held virtually and can be phoned into:
    • Go to the reapportionment website for the most recent meeting and details to call into
    • If for some reason you can’t access the meeting the day of, call the Conference Bridge Number at (907) 273-5190 with Participant Code 721227#‚Äč
  • Attend the town halls, which will offer Q&A opportunities with Resource Data and members of the Reapportionment Committee.
  • Draw your own ideas for districts using the public input platform that will be developed. Until that software gets set up, visit Districtr and select the 40 State House Districts option. Or, if you’re up for a more detailed tool, try Dave’s Redistricting App to draw using ultra-granular Census blocks.

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