A progressive’s guide to the AK special RCV general

Progressives are weighing whether or not to rank a Republican second during the ranked-choice general.

It’s official: the special ranked choice general election to fill Don Young’s term will feature three candidates rather than four.

On Saturday, June 25th, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling deciding that Tara Sweeney would not be bumped into the 4th place slot.

The lawsuit responds to the withdrawal independent candidate Al Gross, who unexpectedly withdrew from the general after safely placing 3rd in the June 16th primary.

That leaves Sarah Palin (R), Nick Begich (R), and Mary Peltola (D) on the general ballot. Voters will be able to rank the three in order of their preference for them. With Gross out of the race, progressives are weighing whether to rank Palin or Begich 2nd — or either of them at all.

Some have even asked if there’s an element of strategy involved.

In my view, strategic voting during the RCV general is a futile and a risky bet. Without Al Gross or a Republican who shares some voters with Peltola (like Sweeney did), there is no need to consider strategy or game theory. Whether you vote Palin/Begich as 2nd is all about insurance — a choice between the lesser of two evils assuming Peltola doesn’t make the 2nd round of RCV.

Below is analysis on how to vote in two different scenarios. The first assumes Peltola does very well in the 1st round of voting, causing one Republican to be eliminated and creating a D vs R runoff (Peltola vs Palin OR Begich). The second scenario assumes Peltola places third and gets eliminated immediately (Palin vs Begich runoff).

Peltola is likely to place 1st/2nd during the 1st round of RCV

The debate on which conservative to rank 2nd is based on the premise that Peltola will place 3rd and be the first candidate to be eliminated from the race. Should she get eliminated first, it would leave a 2-way competition between Palin and Begich. From there, it makes sense that we’d rank whoever we dislike the least and thus prefer to send to D.C.

But a 2 vs 1 race where conservatives are splitting the vote against a sole Democrat is actually likely to put either Begich or Palin in third place.

Progressive and liberal voters tend to make up about 40-45% of the votes in a general election. Republicans normally take 55-60% of the vote. However, with two Republicans running, it will be very hard for either to beat Peltola’s 40-45% alone. Mathematically, it would require a complete blowout between Palin and Begich in which one of them receives just 10-15% of the vote. That is incredibly unlikely.

Even if Palin or Begich manage to beat Peltola’s likely threshold, its highly unlikely BOTH Republican candidates beat Peltola. That means that at least one Republican is going to get eliminated from the 1st round of voting. If that’s the case, it really doesn’t matter if you choose to rank another Republican 2nd — there won’t be a scenario where your votes get redistributed to another Republican anyways.

For example, let’s play out an RCV scenario under the assumption Peltola takes first place:

Peltola45%
Palin30%
Begich25%
1st round of voting:
Begich gets eliminated due to getting fewest votes
Palin47.8%
Peltola47.1%
2nd round of voting:
6% of Begich voters don’t rank either Palin or Peltola as their 2nd choice; 17% rank Palin 2nd and Begich’s votes transfer to her; 2% rank Peltola 2nd and those votes transfer to her

Here’s the takeaway: the final round will likely be (D) vs (R), meaning your 2nd choice vote will never get redistributed to another candidate.

If Peltola doesn’t make the 2nd round of RCV…

Let’s imagine my prediction that Peltola performs very well during the 1st round is incorrect. Perhaps Palin/Begich will do so well they earn the 1st place votes of many independents who sometimes vote Democratic but are unhappy with Biden and want a Republican to win this time. Perhaps Democrat’s stay home while Republicans turn out in droves and Peltola’s vote share dips below 35%. I think all of this is unlikely, but let’s say it happens.

In that case, you might want to rank a Republican 2nd. Assuming it will be a Palin vs Begich runoff once Peltola gets eliminated, we should at least have a say in which Republican will represent our state.

Luckily, there is no electoral downside to ranking Palin or Begich 2nd. Perhaps you can argue that since your vote will go towards a Republican it will count towards their final number of votes, which could give the appearance of conservative legitimacy to the winner. I don’t think this carries a tangible harm since we’ll know how many voters preferred a Democrat from the beginning.

Personally, I’ll be ranking Peltola 1st and Begich 2nd. I’m pretty certain Peltola will not get eliminated in the 1st round of voting, but if there’s no harm in a backup vote should I get things wrong (again), why not?

Top-4 special election saw highest primary turnout since 2014

In a year expected to be punishing for Dems, Republican turnout is up in Alaska

Historically, primary turnout is very low in Alaska. Between 2010-2020, an average of 24.5% of registered voters turned out to vote in Alaska’s primaries. That’s an average of 126,500 voters each election cycle.

For the special congressional primary, 161,773 Alaskans turned in a ballot — a turnout of 27.5%. That’s the highest since 2014, which saw a whopping 173,175 Alaskans turn out (35%).

Overall primary turnout is highest in 8 years

Why are 2010 and 2014 benchmarks for recent turnout? Those were high-profile years for Alaskan statewide elections, specifically the Senate. In 2010, a generally favorable year for Republicans nationwide, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) nearly lost her seat in a closed Republican primary due to widespread dissatisfaction in the party. In 2014, a terrible year for Democrats, Republicans were engaged in a very competitive 3-way primary to decide who would face the vulnerable Senator Mark Begich (D).

What explains the bump in turnout for this special election? For the first time ever, Alaska conducted an all-mail election, meaning every voter got their ballot in the mail with paid postage. Others might attribute the higher turnout to the open top-4 primary, as opposed to closed party primaries that Alaska used to conduct. We will have to see how turnout during the August 16th primaries compare, which will not be an all-mail election but will include many more races that draw voters to the polls.

(Remember: In August, we will vote on Governor, Senate, and 59 legislative races as well as both the special RCV general AND the top-4 primary for the regular primary for US House)

Conservative turnout is up, progressive turnout is down

Overall, conservative voters turn out far more than progressives for Alaska’s primaries. There are simply more conservatives in the state, despite the fact that 58% of registered voters are Undeclared or Non-Partisan. Many “independent” voters cast their ballots for Republican-leaning candidates. Thus, there is a natural turnout gap between conservative and progressive voters during primaries.

The primary turnout gap between conservative and progressive voters has always been high, but has shrunk in recent years. In the early 2010’s, conservatives were outvoting progressive 2-to-1 in primaries; in 2020, that difference was only 4,000 votes.

As you can see, the turnout gap between progressives and conservatives typically widens during non-presidential midterm years (2010-2014-2018-2022) — regardless of whether the POTUS is a Democrat or Republican.

In particular, conservatives widen the turnout gap during non-presidential midterms when the president is a Democrat. This follows a decades-long trend in which the party out of power has a significant edge during the midterms. Right now we have a razor-thin Democratic trifecta with a very unpopular president. Dissatisfaction with inflation and other qualms is driving higher conservative turnout, and progressives are largely underwhelmed by the Biden administration’s policies leading to an unenthused base. Politically, we are in an environment that is motivating an especially high turnout gap.

Despite higher turnout, conservative vote share plateaued

In comparison to analyzing turnout, vote share gives us an idea of the attitudes of the primary electorate differ year-to-year.

Note: primary voters are very, very different than the general electorate. Most voters don’t know the difference between the primary and general to begin with, and the general (November) occurs at a far more convenient time than our primaries (August). Additionally, primaries serve the purpose of vetting the candidates who will move on to the general. All of that is to say: primaries attract engaged and opinionated voters who are more likely to pay attention to politics. This is why candidates often run more ideological campaigns during the primary and then tack to the center for the general — they’re adapting to their audience.

So, knowing that primary voters tend to be more engaged and partisan voters, how has the vote share between conservative and progressive primary voters split?

Between 2010-2020, conservatives outvoted progressives in primaries by an average margin of +25%. For the 2022 special primary, that margin was 22.8%. Despite lots of conservative enthusiasm this year, progressives were able to maintain their average vote shares.

Conservative vote share tends to fall significantly during general elections where a wider array of voters come to the polls. The average conservative victory during a general election between 2010-2020 was+18%. Since 2016, conservatives are winning by much tighter margins: Dunleavy won in 2018 by a margin of +8%, and Trump won in 2020 with +10%.

The takeaway is that, on balance, conservative vote share during primaries is much higher than the November general election. This means that during the primaries, conservatives usually outvote progressives in parts of the state that usually vote for progressives and moderates.

For example, take a look at a side-by-side of the 2020 presidential election and the 2022 special congressional. For this year’s special election, I combined the vote totals of candidates that lean left/right on the political spectrum. Note that conservatives win several districts that voted for Biden because of the turnout gap:

What do primary results tell us about the general?

To some degree, primary turnout can predict heightened enthusiasm for one party over the other. In 2020, progressives turned out in record number for their primaries and went on to flip several districts that voted Trump in 2016 but Biden in 2020. In the red wave year of 2010, conservatives crushed progressives in total vote share during the primaries and then led the way to sweeping victories in the general.

Additionally, progressives pulled an impressive vote share for the special primary given the red wave year this is supposed to be. As mentioned, conservatives outvoted progressives+22.8% for the special election. In comparison to other red wave years, that same margin was +45.6%in 2010 and +25% in 2014. Did a diverse set of candidates attract enough progressives to keep the vote share up? Will they show up in August to vote for Mary Peltola or vote progressive in November? It’s impossible to tell.

On the other hand, there are strong exceptions to the correlations between the primary and general. For instance, 2018 was a blue wave year for progressives across the country, but conservatives managed to maintain their average vote share. The correlation is not 100%.

View an interactive map of each House District’s winner by @cinyc9

How AK’s open House primary could send four conservatives to the RCV general

With low Democratic primary turnout in Alaska, progressives risk fragmenting their small voting pool — crowding them out of the RCV general election entirely.

Alaska’s open primary to fill the remainder of the late Don Young’s congressional term is about to enter full campaign mode. The 46 candidates who filed after Constant and Begich are finally posting on social media, hitting the road and meeting voters, attending forums, and racking up endorsements.

I have a lot to say about the race in general, but I’d like to focus on the effort to elect a progressive candidate by placing in the primary and winning in the general, which will utilize ranked choice voting.

For context, Alaska will hold two (2) sets of elections for a total of four (4) opportunities to vote on this single congressional race. June 11th is the special open primary where voters pick one candidate, which will send the top four into the special general election. On August 16th, voters will vote in the special general RCV election, which has voters rank the top four candidates according to their preferences. At the same time, voters will be voting in the regular open primary, in which voters will again select their top choice and advance four total candidates onto a general RCV context. Finally, on November 8th, Alaskans will vote in the general ranked choice voting election and rank the top four candidates again. Some candidates may choose to only participate in the special election, meaning the candidates will likely change between elections.

At this point, progressive support is split between four competitive candidates: Downtown Anchorage Assemblyman Chris Constant, former candidate for US Senate Al Gross, North Pole councilman and progressive Santa Claus, and former Bethel House representative Mary Peltola.

The attitude among progressives seems to be to vote your conscious, because the new election system was sold as something that empowers us to embrace our political ideals without the same problems of splitting the vote. Moreover, with so many running in the primary, people have concluded that there is no point in strategizing in a huge field where the different between candidates will be fewer votes than ever.

While well intentioned, I fear this consensus has the possibility to lead to progressives being crowded out of the primary and lead to an all-Republican ranked choice general.

I will preface by saying: I don’t think this has a super high likelihood of occurring. The following is an expression of caution given the narrow path progressives have to winning this seat. Most of what we know about how this primary will shake out is based on guesswork given the data we have about elections in Alaska. This attempt to drawn conclusions from that may not age well given the uncertainty ahead of us, but this is worth exploring anyways:

Alaska primary turnout trends favor R’s

Primaries have very, very different voters than general elections. In the past, primaries have typically been closed contests to select someone to go against the other party in a general election. The elections occur in an off-month and thus don’t attract as many voters. By nature, primaries attract folks who pay attention to politics and shaping the outcome of the general election they plan to vote in. The average primary voter is a super-voter that participates regularly and are often holds more partisan views than the average voter.

For the past decade, Republicans have far outpaced progressive turnout in primaries. 2010 and 2014 stand out, which were both red wave years that turned out Republicans in a backlash against the Obama administration. 2020 saw a spike in progressive primary turnout, perhaps due to the statewide anti-Trump wave.

2020 is likely more of an anomaly than a new norm, given a presidential year with high progressive engagement. Given the national climate, which is reasonably predicted to skew heavily in favor of Republicans, we’re probably looking at a year more similar to 2010 or 2014 where progressive turnout is down while conservative turn out a lot more.

In fact, as ballots for the June 11th special primary come in, it looks like Republican-dominated House Districts are already leading the state in turnout. Alaska mapmaking veteran @cinyc9 put together a live interactive that shades Alaska’s districts by turnout. Click the map below to view it:

There’s still a month left before the last ballot is returned, so this distribution could change. However, it’s reasonable to expect that even with vote by mail, Republicans have far stronger incentives to turn out this year. An unpopular Democrat is in office, and anger over inflation and gas prices continues to rage. Based on the national environment, Democrats aren’t going to turn out for a party they see as doing too little given the trifecta in Washington.

On average, progressive primary voters typically cast roughly 50,000 votes between 2010-2020. Republicans cast roughly 90,000 between the same period. If we project total turnout to be around 140,000 voters, we can expect progressives to make up 35% of the primary vote.

A smaller voter pool will dilute progressive voters

If progressives cast 50,000 votes in the primary, divided evenly among four competitive progressives gives each candidate 12,500 votes. For the four competitive Republicans (Begich, Sweeney, Palin, Revak), that’s 22,500 votes per candidate. With four competitive campaigns on both sides, Republicans have an advantage in the primary by having a larger voting pool and thus more power to nominate multiple conservatives in the new open primary. Thus, progressives risk not giving a single candidate enough votes to advance to the general.

Let’s put this in perspective:

For a progressive candidate to comfortably make the top four, they will probably need to win -roughly- 20,000 votes. That would put them at around 12-15% of the vote. Even then, that could be a tight fit. Progressive support seems to be genuinely split hard against all four progressives, which will make getting to a comfortable 15% difficult.

A note about polling

My analysis that Democrats are in a close contest for 4th place conflicts with a recent primary poll conducted by Ivan Moore’s Alaska Survey Research group .

Ivan Moore Alaska special congressional primary poll 2022

Without having conducted a poll myself, I don’t have better data than this. I also respect Ivan’s work a lot. However, this poll is to be taken with a truck-sized grain of salt.

Alaska is notoriously difficult, and thus inaccurate, to poll. That’s true for many reasons: our communities are less connected to the national political culture and are more disparate from one another; residential transiency (people move a lot); Alaskans don’t like answering strangers’ questions about their politics; and low population necessarily means low sample sizes. Here’s a brief look at Alaska’s recent record in polling compared to the actual outcome of the election, provided by FiveThirtyEight:

This poll is no exception to the woes of polling in Alaska: with a sample size of just over 600 people polled online, this is frankly little more than anyone’s guess at how the candidates are doing. That’s what we’re all doing.

But given the low Democratic pool of voters in an average primary, I still worry that differential Republican turnout will make it mathematically difficult for a Democrat to be “guaranteed” a slot, nevertheless two as Ivan’s poll suggests.

Can progressives coalesce to save their spot?

The single best way to stave off a split so deep that it crowds out a progressive is to coalesce behind 1-2 candidates (ideally a single campaign).

That is very unlikely to happen. A lot of far-left progressives are very excited about Santa; Constant has been campaigning for months, before Young passed away, and has raised over $100k and can reach a lot of voters; Peltola is gaining momentum from establishment progressives and voters excited about electing the first Alaska Native woman to statewide office. Even Gross will get a significant amount of votes from his name recognition alone. Progressives have opted to take their chances in a large field rather than strategize.

Ballots are already out, so it seems too late to get progressives to abandon their excitement for a free-for-all type of primary.

However, I think it’s incredibly important to pay attention to how the special open primary shakes out so we can adjust for the general. If a single progressive struggles to break through, we will need to readjust our calculus and rally around a viable candidate and encourage the one or two of the least popular progressives to drop from the regular election. Santa is unlikely to run for the general, so we know this problem will be less of an issue as the pool of progressives potentially decreases.

What’s the point of strategy if Alaska isn’t going blue anyways?

For what its worth, I think this is a winnable seat. Progressives have an uphill battle to win statewide, but this is an historic opportunity that could lead to a lot of abnormal voting behaviors in the RCV general. Candidates have a genuine chance at playing for 2nd and 3rd place votes in a way that could finally see progressives be rewarded for their reasonable politics. Furthermore, a general RCV field of three Republicans and one progressive — a situation that is most likely, in my opinion, despite my fears articulated here — will disproportionately benefit a progressive.

In a state where progressives are expected to lose at the statewide level almost no matter what, we should always run our best candidates and vie for excellence. We should be campaigning and strategizing like we’re just within reach of beating a Republican statewide; this opportunity is no exception.

Weddleton’s loss breaks South’s moderate streak

South Anchorage isn’t as conservative as we think. Can Save Anchorage crowd out moderate voters and lock in two allies on the Assembly?

Going into the 2022 Anchorage municipal election, everybody knew John Weddleton’s race against Republican Randy Sulte would be tough for Weddleton. South is home to some of the reddest pockets of the state, particularly Huffman and Rabbit Creek. The district usually joins Eagle River-Chugiak in voting against any candidate that is left-of-center, including voting for Trump +3.7% and Bronson +9.5%.

And yet, on the municipal and state level, South tends to elect relatively moderate, reasonable candidates to represent them. Most recently, South elected two moderates that often joined the liberal wing of the Assembly, particularly in checking Mayor Bronson’s controversial executive appointments and projects. John Weddleton (elected 2016) and current Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance (elected 2017) have been targeted by Save Anchorage, a right-wing organization that helped fuel Bronson’s victory. Bronson endorsed Sulte, a powerful nod in a district where a significant number of Save Anchorage’s members are engaged.

Prior to John and Suzanne, South elected many other moderate conservatives. Bill Evans (2014), who ran for mayor in 2021 on being the moderate in the middle of the field, was a strong and steady voice on the Assembly for one term. Jennifer Johnston (2007, 2010, 2013), who joined the Democratic-led House Majority Coalition while in the Alaska Legislature, took moderate positions while on the Assembly. Before his passing in 2019, Chris Birch (2005, 2008, 2011) was well known for prioritizing stability and reasonable governance both as an assemblyperson and state senator in the Legislature.

Recently, Southside moderates have won their elections over party-aligned Republicans by increasingly close margins. Political polarization is a large contributing factor: voters are less likely to cross party lines or opt for non-partisan candidates over more ideological campaigns. Additionally, more partisan conservatives have moved to the Huffman area over the past 10 years. The most conservative Huffman precinct grew 43% between 2010-2020, some of the largest population growth in the municipality.

As a consequence, moderates are fighting close battles with more partisan voters in the district. LaFrance won re-election in 2020 by just 2%; more votes were cast for Weddleton’s two challengers in 2016; and had Bill Evans had just one challenger instead of two, he likely would have lost to a far-right conservative.

Why is the Southside conservative tent so divided? On one hand, you have more traditional conservatives in Huffman and Rabbit Creek who are the bedrock of support for far-right candidates and give by far the biggest electoral margins to Republicans. On the other, you have richer and more educated Republicans in the Hillside and Oceanview who tend to value balanced leadership and are less militant about social issues. The only truly liberal strongholds in the district are the communities of Turnagain Arm and Girdwood; without their votes, the district would have voted for Trump +9.5% (a shift to the right of nearly 6 points) and Bronson +11.7% (a shift of over 2 points).

Weddleton vs Sulte

In a large contrast to his 2016 election (he ran unopposed in 2019), Weddleton only won 4 precincts against Sulte. Those won were the areas most likely to support Weddleton, and all precincts Suzanne LaFrance won in 2020: Southport, East Hillside, Indian, and Girdwood.

Southport, in the Bayshore-Klatt area south of West Dimond, is home to a lot of young business professionals from college-educated backgrounds. Consistent priorities often include strong public schools and quality municipal services. Weddleton campaigned hard on “doing the work”-type messaging, which prioritizes incremental approaches to governance. Weddleton set himself apart from his more liberal colleagues, which may have worked better here than more partisan voters in the heart of Southside.

O’Malley No. 4, or rather East Hillside, is a common defector in the Hillside and broader South area. For instance, East Hillside was the only precinct off of O’Malley that voted for Dunbar in 2021. The East Hillside appears whiter and richer than broader Hillside and many parts of South, and is more rural with greater access to skiing and outdoor recreation. I’m not certain what makes this part of the community more relatively moderate.

Weddleton underperforms LaFrance

Finally, Sulte broke the coalition that has given moderates close political victories for over a decade now. What collapsed in Weddleton’s coalition that lost him re-election? Let’s look at Weddleton’s performance compared to Suzanne LaFrance’s 2020 re-election, a close victory over the far more conservative candidate Rick Castillo. Full disclosure: I worked as Field Director on LaFrance’s campaign.

Weddleton only improved on LaFrance’s performance in Indian off of Turnagain Arm as well as a slice of lower Huffman. Weddleton’s marginal underperformance all across the district added up to a solid win for Sulte.

Turnout

What happened to Weddleton’s support? Did certain voters show up and give Randy a boost in any particular part of the district? A look at turnout gives us a clue:

The Hillside area disproportionately increased their turnout. Collectively, Hillside voted for LaFrance by 191 votes while Sulte flipped it and won by 20 votes. This tells us that either turnout was up overall but Weddleton still lost a lot of moderate voters (less likely) or more partisan Republicans and conservatives turned out for Sulte (more likely).

Implications for the Anchorage Assembly

Save Anchorage’s strongest base of support is in Eagle River-Chugiak and deeply conservative parts of South. These areas turned out to elect Bronson, largely thanks to Save Anchorage for animating the conservative base. They appear to have turned out the Bronson coalition and unseated someone who they saw as not providing enough of a check on the mayor.

But can Save Anchorage continue to turn out partisan conservatives and flip both seats, making the entirety of Eagle River and South’s delegation Bronson-endorsed? Is Sulte’s win the beginning of a 8-4 Assembly (remember, we’ll have a 12th member by then)? It’s possible, but they have a tough battle ahead of them.

For starters, when Sulte runs for re-election in 2025, he will be running under the new districts adopted by the Anchorage Assembly this year. The new districts, which had to be redrawn to accomodate the new 12th downtown seat approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2020, place Sulte into West’s district. He would lose a majority of his constituents and have to run in a far more liberal district than the one he defeated Weddleton in. Save Anchorage would be starting fresh in an open seat.

Save Anchorage’s next shot at electing an ally to Bronson would be flipping LaFrances seat when she runs for re-election. LaFrance has performed better in both elections compared to John and has a strong base of support, and would be tougher to unseat if she runs for re-election. If she steps aside and leaves the seat open, Save Anchorage could be well-placed to elect a fresh-faced and staunch conservative without having to take down a competent and well-funded moderate incumbent.

Why the $111m Anchorage school bond failed

Anchorage voters normally approve school bonds by double digits. This year it failed by over 1,000 votes.

On April 5th, 70,000 Anchorage voters went to the polls and largely voted to re-elect the majority coalition on the Anchorage Assembly. This year saw the most coordinated attempt to remove incumbent Anchorage assembly members in recent history, with every single major opponent being backed by the far-right group Save Anchorage (SA). With the exception of John Weddleton, an independent moderate conservative, every incumbent beat their SA challenger.

At the same time, Anchorage voters declined to sign off on a $111 million-dollar bond package to repair and replace aging infrastructure in the Anchorage School District. It included a relatively controversial $31m bond to replace Downtown’s Inlet View Elementary; district-wide roof replacements; millions for missing fire suppression systems and deferred maintenance; and other needed improvements.

The failure of this bond was surprising to many. School bond proposals usually pass by double-digit margins. The last school bond to fail, which totaled $49.2m in repairs and bus replacements, failed by a slim margin of 2% (just 230 votes!).

In the end, the 2022 school bond failed by 1.65% — or 1,144 votes. Now that precinct-level results are in, let’s take a look at what happened:

Mapping Anchorage’s support for school bonds

First, lets look at how Anchorage typically votes on school bonds. Precinct-level results for prior school bond propositions are available for 2018, 2019, and 2020. Below is a map of the average precinct vote on the school bond question for those years. The map is shaded by raw votes cast for/against the proposition, allowing us to see what areas cast the most votes:

Even in more conservative areas of town, school bonds typically have widespread support. For instance, fiscally conservative communities like Downtown Eagle River, Sand Lake, Taku-Campbell, and the Hillside almost always support these bonds (albeit by lower margins of support).

Comparing the 2018-2020 average vote to the 2022 school bond vote, this year saw a major reversion in support from almost every part of the municipality. The map below shows the difference in support between the average school bond vote and the 2022 school bond vote. The darker the red, the larger the decline in support for the school bond.

As you can see, support for the 2022 school bond dropped in nearly every precinct in Anchorage. The clearest reversion happened in District 2, with the top 3 precincts to swing against school bonds coming from the Eagle River area.

School bonds usually pass in Eagle River by a thin margin — an average of 500 votes. This year, it voted against the bond by nearly 1,500 votes. Remember, the 2022 bond failed by less than 1,200 votes total.

Other conservative areas in the Anchorage Bowl also expressed unique distaste for the 2022 bond compared to previous years, including the Abbott Loop-Dowling area and much of South Muldoon.

The only areas to match or outpace their average support for school bonds are also some of the most progressive precincts in Anchorage: lower Airport Heights in Midtown, Centennial Park in Northeast Muldoon, Forest Park in Turnagain, and parts of the Downtown Core.

Even community opposition to the rebuild of Inlet View Elementary didn’t stop the neighborhood from voting to approve the bond by a historically similar margin. Inlet View’s precinct has voted on average to pass school bonds by around 280 votes. This year, they voted to approve by 214 votes.

What sunk the 2022 bond?

The data tells us two stories: that conservative voters turned out against the proposition, and that many voters saw this year’s bond as different from previous bonds.

Generally, Anchorage voters don’t pay much attention to the bonds voted on every year. Our lack of awareness about bonds causes varied results because simple messaging can turn voters towards or against them. If you tell a lot of voters that a bond will raise their property taxes and push the tax cap, as Must Read Alaska has told their listeners and viewers this year, and they might revolt.

It is likely that the high price tag of this year’s bond ($111m) alienated low-information and low-turnout voters.

Its true that the partisan, high-turnout areas of Eagle River disproportionately turned out against the bond. However, wholesale support for the bond disappeared in communities that have always heavily supported them. There was no sophisticated campaign to educate or persuade these voters against the bond, so it’s not as if you can give the credit to Save Anchorage’s Assembly candidates for getting out the vote against it.

Instead, the bond failed because regular voters saw the highest price tag for a school bond in over a decade and didn’t feel it was justified. The average voter is tangentially concerned about government spending without a good reason to tolerate it. For instance, 2020’s school bond contained $82m in repairs, which was also a generally high-cost school bond. Context matters: voters probably sympathized with the cost of repairing over dozen aging elementary and high schools damaged by the 7.1 earthquake that rocked the municipality in late 2019.

Now, 2022 is the year of high prices and bloated budgets — inflation is a dominant concern among voters, as are major hikes in property assessments stemming from the housing crisis in Anchorage. It just wasn’t the year to try and pass an expensive bond package.

Alaska Redistricting Board votes to gerrymander Anchorage’s Senate Districts — again

The conservative majority on the Alaska Redistricting Board voted to pair Eagle River and Southside in the Senate, effectively repeating the same gerrymander the state Supreme Court had ordered them to rectify.

On Wednesday, April 13th, the Alaska Redistricting Board voted 3-2 on Option 3B, which revises the board’s previous Senate pairings after they were struck down by the Alaska Supreme Court. It was a vote that pitted the conservative majority members of the board (Chair Binkley, Marcum, and Simpson) against two independents (Borromeo and Bahnke).

After the board finished drawing House Districts in November, they rushed through a series of pairings that would have stuck the Eagle River Valley with South Muldoon. That decision was ultimately determined to be a political gerrymander that benefitted Eagle River by giving them two Senate seats instead of one.

The new map addresses the court decision by pairing North and South Muldoon’s districts back together, but still splits up Eagle River into two Senate seats by pairing the ER Valley with South Anchorage instead.

But before this map was passed, the Board deliberated between two final plans: Options 2 and 3B. It is important to quickly review this debate to understand how these pairings came to be, and the politics that were played in order to make it happen.

The politics behind Options 2 and 3B

A quick look at the partisan breakdown of these maps shows why the conservative majority on the board were willing to entertain the minimal testimony and reasoning in favor of pairing Eagle River and Southside. Using data from the Harvard Voting and Election Science Team, we can break down how likely each district is to vote for a Democrat or Republican using the district’s average of the 2016 Presidential, 2018 Gubernatorial, 2020 Presidential and 2020 Senate elections.

Map Option 2 (East Anchorage Plantiff Plan)
Map created using Dave’s Redistricting App

Map 2, offered by some of the East Anchorage plantiffs that won their Supreme Court case, would have paired communities of interest together in a sensible way. Many of the pairings here reflect requests from communities that have testified at both the state and municipal redistricting processes since November: it unites North and South Muldoon, both Eagle River’s House Districts, keeps Downtown/Fairview with the remainder of Downtown, and keeps a majority of the Midtown business core together.

It is a largely competitive map. The data leaves some districts in the “competitive” category, but some of those have clear partisan leans — the Abbott Loop/Hillside district is bound to be an uphill battle for a Democrat; the broader West Anchorage district is on the other side of that spectrum. In most cycles, it will probably end up a 3R-3D map with two genuinely toss-up seats.

It is unclear why the three conservative board members disapproved of this plan. Even after listening to all the redistricting board meetings on these new pairings, none of them could articulate what was wrong with this plan. They only had thoughts on why their plan was better.

This map, as well as an earlier plan put forward by independent board member Melanie Bahnke, was heavily politicized by conservative media. Must Read Alaska put out several hit pieces claiming it was the work of Democrats, and that any map that didn’t split up Eagle River’s district was depriving them of the two senators the area is entitled to.

Map Option 3B (Marcum-Ruedrich Plan)
Map created using Dave’s Redistricting App

Map 3B was drawn up by Randy Ruedrich and board member Bethany Marcum. Marcum fixed the Senate pairings the last time around, which went to court and lost. Randy is the former party chair for the state GOP, who was forced to leave in exile due to ethics violations. Randy helped fix the Senate pairings in 2012, which were also gerrymandered and successfully broke apart the Bipartisan Senate Coalition and led to full GOP takeover of all branches of state government.

Map 3B makes some questionable choices that resemble board member Marcum’s attempt to fix the Anchorage pairings in favor of GOP representatives.

First, it pairs South Anchorage with the Eagle River Valley. During the Anchorage Reapportionment process, maps were proposed by myself and Alaskans for Fair Redistricting that paired the ER Valley and parts of the Hillside. This pairing received quick and intense backlash: multiple community councils drew up resolutions opposing such an idea, and the four Assembly members from ER and South Anchorage received overwhelming feedback asking them to vote against the maps.

However, in an about face, the same folks who opposed pairing them together called in to support the pairing at the state level. Some who actively testified against such pairings in the past gave conflicting testimony in favor of them just last week.

Case in point: Susan Fischetti of Eagle River. Susan was an elector for Alaska in 2000 and is an officer of the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club. In October of 2021, Susan submitted testimony to the Alaska Redistricting Board in opposition of pairing Eagle River with Southside. Then, in February of 2022, Susan emailed the Assembly calling any maps that paired ER and South together a “gerrymander”.

Susan Fischetti’s testimony to the AK Redistricting Board in October ’21 opposing ER/South pairing
Susan Fischetti submitting similar testimony to the Assembly opposing maps that paired Eagle River and Hillside

Then, once the board began considering new pairings, Susan called in to testify in favor of pairing Eagle River and Southside during an April 4th public testimony session.

The following day, Anchorage Downtown Assembly member Chris Constant pointed out Susan’s about-face. Shortly after, Susan called in herself and testified — again in favor of pairing Eagle River and Southside! Once Susan was finished testifying, board member Nicole Borromeo took the opportunity to ask why Susan had changed her mind, which can be seen below:

After a long pause following Borromeo’s question, Susan simply said that since she’s from Eagle River she’s more of an expert on the subject. According to Susan, “we don’t have an option, I don’t see anything else that we can do”. That is clearly not true, as there were multiple contiguous options available to pair the Eagle River Valley district with — including the other Eagle River district.

I want to be clear: I supported pairing Eagle River and Hillside during the Anchorage reapportionment process, which is a separate process that requires a certain population per district in a way that the state process does not. I lay out my reasoning here, but the most important part is that Eagle River did not have enough population to make up their own district, requiring an area from the Anchorage Bowl to be pulled into the district. Of the options available, Hillside was the fairest and most socio-economically viable option. Here, there were clear alternatives that the majority of the board decided to ignore.

Consequently, the 3B map was passed, giving the GOP a strong edge in the State Senate. Compared to Option 2, 3B creates an additional Safe Republican seat. The R-leaning seat in Oceanview/Taku/Campbell is also another example where the data marks it as competitive, but in reality its more likely than not to go to a Republican. So, 3B creates a possible 4R-4D map.

From the outside, that might seem fair — the partisanship ends up 50/50, right? The board’s duty is not to create an equal amount of Democratic and Republican seats. The majority on the board advocated for a map that preserved a partisan advantage for them, rather than one that made the most sense. That is indefensible at any level. It repeats the harms outlined by the Alaska Supreme Court, which decried the previous Senate map for extending Eagle River’s representation at the expense of another community. This time, they did the exact same thing but picked a different community to bite the bullet.

Lastly: as a cherry on top, Option 3B also pairs together two Republican Senators who have been a thorn in the side of the AK GOP. Coincidentally, they are the same Senators from the districts being paired together to create a GOP advantage: Senators Reinbold (Eagle River Valley) and Holland (Southside). Another coincidence: these same Senators called in to testify against being paired together! This will require them to run against each other in the same Senate district, essentially forcing one of their retirements.

What happens next?

On April 15th, the board must issue a status update to Judge Matthews at the Supreme Court. Matthews could essentially do one of three things:

  • Decide that his order was met by the board and allow the new pairings to stand for election this August/November
  • Criticize the new pairings for failing to meet the order, sending the board back to repair them again
  • Repair the Senate districts himself, which would be the first time Alaska’s redistricting process was fully passed over to the courts

At the end of the day, this is an inherently political process. Everyone wants to claim to be impartial, but we have a board full of political appointees with very little legal jurisprudence guiding what we ought to be doing to get fair districts. Nobody is impartial because the stakes are so high. I hope Judge Matthews recognizes this and takes this process out of the hands of the redistricting board — we do not have the time to do repair the Senate a third time.

If we run out, we may have to default to using the pairings drawn this year and then re-do them before the next cycle. But by then, the harm will have already been done: sitting members of the Legislature will have been elected under gerrymandered districts.

Weddleton Assembly map moves forward in unanimous vote

Weddleton’s map is now subject to amendments by members of the Assembly, which will be viewable by the public on March 14th

In an Assembly meeting on March 1st, the body voted unanimously to move forward Southside Assembly member John Weddleton’s map forward for consideration.

The vote followed months of public process led by the Anchorage Reapportionment Committee, Chaired by Downtown Assemblyman Chris Constant. Ultimately, 4 maps were produced by the redistricting contractor RDI while 12 maps were produced by members of the public for a total of 16 maps up for consideration — more than any other reapportionment cycle in Anchorage’s history. Opportunities for public input on these maps included 10 public committee meetings, and 3 open town halls, and 2 chances to testify at Assembly meetings.

Though all 16 maps were thoroughly debated, the Reapportionment Committee has been slowly eliminating maps as the process has gone on. Weddleton’s map moved on from a final field of 4 maps, which included:

  • Map 6 Version 2 by Anchorage Action (drawn from feedback from dozens of members of the group)
  • Map 7 Version 2 by Robert Hockema (me)
  • Map 11 Version 2 by John Weddleton (drawn by Denny Wells, whose 3 maps submitted under their own name were rejected by the committee earlier in the process)
  • Map 12 by Eagle River-Chugiak Assemblywoman Jamie Allard and Mayor Dave Bronson (previously rejected due to failure to submit a properly formatted shapefile which illegally divided U.S. Census Blocks)

Following the vote to move Weddleton’s map forward, Assembly members had until March 7th to offer amendments to the map. These amendments will be published on the reapportionment website on Monday, March 14th, just one day before the last public hearing on March 15th.

A quick look at the map

Weddleton’s map looks a bit like a compromise map. Assembly members have voiced specific concerns about what areas go where on the map. For instance, Both members from Eagle River-Chugiak as well as South-Girdwood ruled out maps that paired the ER-Chugiak district with an area of Hillside.

Additionally, Midtown members Felix Rivera and Meg Zaletel expressed concern that core areas of Midtown were left out in almost all of the maps, especially Rogers Park and Airport Heights. Weddleton’s map unites all of Rogers Park, but leaves Airport Heights in the newly expanded Downtown district.

In order to accommodate these concerns, Weddleton’s map does a few things:

  • Downtown pushes East to take in all of North/South Mountain View, while moving south into Airport Heights, as well as south into areas of Fireweed and Spenard. It even takes in the Forest Park neighborhood, which includes West High School.
  • Midtown loses the Dimond area but pushes west to the border of Minnesota.
  • Most notable change is West’s district, which now pushes south of Campbell Lake to include over 7,000 people in Bayshore and Southport
Bayshore/Southport area south of the yellow line
  • Eagle River-Chugiak’s district was left underpopulated by 1,472 people, a deviation of -3.03%. It is by far the most under/overpopulated district in Weddleton’s map.
  • South’s district remains largely the same while taking in about 1,500 people from the Dimond area.
Partisanship impacts

Note: Politics are off limits during Committee and Assembly discussions of reapportionment, so it’s important to note that the following considerations are purely for analysis.

Weddleton’s map has an especially strong impact on West’s district because of the Bayshore-Southport pairing. Note, this is a less dramatic reach into Southside than the Allard/Bronson map (originally proposed by Deputy Chief of Staff for the Bronson administration Brice Wilkins).

2020: Trump +9.5, Composite 2016-2020: 11.9, Runoff 2021: Bronson +11.2

The new area drawn into Weddleton’s map votes solidly Republican, having voted for Trump by +9.5% in 2020. These communities are high turnout too, which means its guaranteed to influence the results of West’s Assembly races.

What does this do to the district as a whole? Not only does West’s district take in solidly conservative turf to the south, but it loses a precinct in West Anchorage that voted for Dunbar by +34%.

For context, West’s current district voted for Biden by +12% in 2020. Under the new map, West would have voted for Biden by +7%.

Likewise, West’s current district voted for Dunbar in Anchorage’s 2021 mayoral runoff by +7.5%. Under the new map, it would have voted for Dunbar by roughly+4.7%.

How will this impact the makeup of the Assembly? This would give conservatives a better shot at flipping the Assembly. The effect is that West would go from being as safely democratic as Midtown’s district (Biden +9.6, Dunbar +10) to a solidly democratic district such as East (Biden +7, Dunbar +5). In other words, West would still be an uphill battle for a far-right Save Anchorage-type conservative to win, but a strong candidate could flip a seat or two well before the next reapportionment cycle.

The process going forward

Assembly members submitted their amendments before March 7th, which will be posted for the public to view on Monday, March 14th. There are areas in Weddleton’s map that are likely to change based on the priorities Assembly members have for their districts. Wests members Austin Quinn-Davidson and Kameron Perez-Verdia may take issue with putting Forest Park and West High into Downtown; Midtown members Meg Zaletel and Felix Rivera have voiced the Airport Heights Community Council’s concern of being completely cut out of Midtown’s district. Though unlikely, the Bayshore/Southport pairing with West could be amended too.

3/14Amendments (if any) to proposed maps will be posted
3/15Public Hearing #3 at Regular Assembly Meeting, 6pm at Assembly
Chambers at Loussac Library
3/18Assembly Worksession on Reapportionment, 1-3pm at City Hall, Suite
155
3/23Special Assembly meeting re: Reapportionment and process for filling
new Assembly seat, 6pm at Assembly Chambers at Loussac Library
3/24Reapportionment Committee meeting (if needed), TBD at City Hall,
Suite 155
Remaining Assembly reapportionment timeline

The case for pairing Eagle River and Hillside

Anchorage’s reapportionment is more than a nerdy task for map enthusiasts and policy makers. At the heart of how to draw our new Assembly districts is one question: what *is* Anchorage?

Do Spenard and Turnagain belong in Westside? Does JBER claim Eagle River more than other areas in the Anchorage “Bowl”? Is Dimond a part of Southside or Midtown?

And yet, at the same time, Anchorage reapportionment is a numbers game. In 2020, voters passed Prop 12, which adds a 12th Assembly member to the body. Right now, Downtown’s district is half the size and has one representative. Now, all 6 districts will have two members each.

With a full 12-member body, districts must now be adjusted to equal as close to 48,541 people as possible. As a consequence, Downtown’s tiny district must now double in size, which will dramatically affect how other districts take in their population.

A few maps being offered have sparked interesting discussions, but the most contentious decision at play is the debate about what to do with Eagle River’s district.

The Eagle River problem

Right now, Eagle River is paired with Chugiak, all of JBER, Peter’s Creek, and the North Muldoon voting precinct containing the Tikahtnu Mall and roughly 3,000 residents south of the Glenn Highway. These communities make up the current District 2.

Current District 2
North Muldoon precinct included in current District 2 (population: 3,207)

Now, thanks to the new population targets, Eagle River’s district is overpopulated by 1,735 people — a deviation of 3.57% from the new target population. Thus, the district must now shrink in size or change shape in order to meet a more acceptable deviation.

Without including a portion of the Anchorage Bowl, Eagle River and its surrounding communities are not large enough to create their own district. Every reapportionment cycle for the past three decades has solved this problem by pairing District 2 with an area of Muldoon.

Time and time again, Eagle River — 77% white, median income of $112,912 per year — gets paired with one of the most diverse and economically disenfranchised communities in the country. The two aren’t socio-economically integrated as the Municipal Charter requires, and they don’t use or share similar services provided by the city (much of District 2 is located in a Limited Road Service Area). Only some communities located on JBER share schools with North Muldoon, but not Eagle River or Chugiak.

More importantly, the current area of North Muldoon paired with Eagle River only represents 6.7% of voting age persons in the district. Their voice is suffocated by the weight of Eagle River, which could explain why the precinct’s turnout for the last Assembly election in 2020 was just 11%. Every other community in District 2 turned out over 30% of its voters in the same election. In an Assembly race the same year, the average precinct in East’s district, where North Muldoon should be located, had an average turnout of 25%.

The current Assembly map disenfranchises the voters of Muldoon, and we ought not accept that simply because it’s easy to do. So, what do we do?

The reality of reapportionment

To achieve a fair deviation, Eagle River must get its population from somewhere. Eagle River Assemblywoman Jamie Allard’s preferred solution is to just leave North Muldoon or any other Anchorage areas out of the district and call it a day. That would leave District 2 underpopulated by 1,472 people, a deviation of -3%.

As easy as that would be, it violates the principle of one person, one vote. Equally populated districts make sure all districts have the same voting power, whereas a severely underpopulated district gives Eagle River more voting power over other districts in the Anchorage municipality. That may be easy, but it is by no means fair.

Since Eagle River’s surrounding communities are too small for a district, the current District 2 needs Anchorage population. Given the demands deviation places on the map drawing process, we must make a difficult choice: what community is most fair to pair Eagle River with? It is not, as it has been for years, communities in Muldoon who have been disenfranchised by their lopsided Assembly district. There is no good reason Muldoon should suffer the consequences each and every time at the expense of their democratic representation.

Rather, the only other contiguous options are Downtown south of the Government Hill access gate — an option that is off the table for the same reasons as Muldoon — or part of the Hillside located in South Anchorage. Hillside is far and away the superior candidate for pairing with Eagle River.

You must be thinking: what does Hillside have to do with Eagle River? Quite frankly, it has a lot more to do with them than Muldoon does. Like Eagle River, Hillside is quite rural with large lots. Hillside contains mostly Limited Road Service Areas that use well and septic. Both communities are predominantly white and wealthy, with social subcultures that distinguish themselves from the Anchorage Bowl.

Don’t take it from me — take it from Eagle River Assemblywoman Jamie Allard and South Assemblyman John Weddleton. During an Assembly meeting on August 24th, the two discussed just how similar and connected the two communities are:

The Anchorage Municipal Charter § 4.01 states : “Election districts, if established, shall be formed of compact and contiguous territory
containing as nearly as practicable a relatively integrated socioeconomic area.”

Relative is the operative word in the Charter. Obviously, Hillside is more integrated to other areas in South Anchorage than Eagle River. Understandably, people from Hillside want to be paired with them instead.

But the reality of reapportionment and the problem with the makeup and geography of Eagle River’s district forces a portion of the Anchorage Bowl to be grouped with them. That means we must choose a comparatively similar community to pair them with. To support this, I refer you to Assembly Counsel Dean Gates, who drafted a memo on the legal criteria for reapportionment of election district boundaries. His memo draws upon decades of state and municipal court precedence on the legal standards for reapportionment.

The Charter language is “relatively integrated” areas. This is not to compare all proposed districts with a hypothetical completely unintegrated area, as if a district including both Quinhagak and Los Angeles had been proposed. “Relatively” means that proposed districts are compared to other previously existing and proposed districts as well as principal alternative districts to determine if socio-economic links are sufficient.

Page 5 of Dean Gate’s memo on reapportionment criteria

This is incredibly important, because it reinforces the impossibility of drawing districts that satisfy each and every community group in Anchorage. We are making decisions based on what possibilities are available to us. Those possibilities are limited by the math of reapportionment. In other words, when communities of interest are in conflict over reapportionment, we must default to the lesser of the evils present. In this case, that lesser evil is pairing Eagle River with a community that is more like Hillside than Muldoon.

As of right now, there are four remaining maps being considered to forward to the Assembly for consideration. Only one of the four — which happens to have been drawn by me — adds a portion of Anchorage to Eagle River’s district to ensure one person, one vote. The accusations of gerrymandering Hillside out of South Anchorage are not taken lightly, but it must pointed out that nobody seems to care that the current districts have done to Muldoon what I am proposing we do to Hillside.

Put simply: it is somebody’s turn to be paired with Eagle River. Will we wash out the voices of Muldoon just like we have time and time again? Or, will do what is right and bring some semblance of parity to our Assembly districts? I implore the Anchorage Assembly to choose fairness over convenience.

Bronson administration to propose conservative leaning Assembly map

A new map submitted on behalf of the Mayor cracks cohesive communities and drags Westside into South’s district

On Saturday, February 5th, District 6 Assembly members Suzanne LaFrance and John Weddleton hosted a South Anchorage constituent meeting on the topic of Anchorage reapportionment. During the meeting, Deputy Chief of Staff for the Bronson administration Brice Wilkins revealed a map proposal on behalf of the Mayor.

It has not been officially published by the Reapportionment Committee, nor is the attribution to the Mayor’s office official; this is just what was said and presented during the meeting.

By all accounts, the map has the strongest partisan effect of all of the proposed maps. It could possibly lead to the Westside district flipping one or both of its seats to a conservative Assembly candidate.

To understand why, it’s helpful to know what the current Assembly map’s partisanship looks like to determine what’s being done to new maps being proposed.

Anchorage Presidential ’20 (Biden +2)

Anchorage Mayoral Runoff ’21 (Bronson +1.3)

The current map features one solidly Democratic district (Downtown), one solidly Republican district (Eagle River-Chugiak), one safely leaning Republican district (South-Girdwood), and 3 Democratic leaning districts (West, East, and Midtown).

DistrictAreaPres ’20, Runoff ’21, *Composite ’16-’20
1DowntownBiden +31.6, Dunbar +45, Composite D+ 31
2Eagle River-ChugiakTrump +25, Bronson +32, Composite R+ 30
3WestBiden +12, Dunbar +7.6, Composite D+ 7
4MidtownBiden +10, Dunbar +10, Composite D +8
5EastBiden +8, Dunbar +5, Composite D+ 4.5
6South-GirdwoodTrump +4, Bronson +9.5, Composite R+ 9
*Composite Average of 2016 presidential, 2018 gubernatorial race, 2020 senator, and 2020 presidential

Before we look at the Mayor’s map, it’s only fair to look at what other map proposals do to change partisanship numbers in each district. Since none of the muni-made maps have gained traction during the process, we’ll focus on publicly-submitted maps.

Composite = Composite Average of 2016 presidential, 2018 gubernatorial race, 2020 senator, and 2020 presidential elections

Some numbers stand out, but the most important changes are to the East, West, and Midtown districts. Because of their deep partisanship, changes even in the double digits to Downtown and Eagle River-Chugiak will not change the outcome of those seats. But the 3 Democratic-leaning swing seats in Anchorage can be more competitive for local conservatives.

In 2020, Christine Hill, who later became famous after crafting the Star of David symbols that became a focal point of the 2021 mask mandate debates in the Assembly, nearly unseated progressive Midtown member Felix Rivera. Hill came within less than 200 votes, which would have put a far-right conservative on the Assembly.

Most of the maps push Midtown south into places like Independence Park and areas south of Dimond/Abbott, which could make the district just competitive enough to swing to a Republican in a red wave year. I think this is unlikely, but it’s certainly possible.

Additionally, East’s district votes Democratic by just 4-5 points. Slight changes could have big political impacts.

West has trended left recently, but there are a lot of conservative areas in the south part of the district (Jewel & Sand Lakes), as well as conservative areas south of Campbell Lake that are currently part of District 6. A new map could capitalize on those areas to change the politics of West’s district dramatically.

It’s only fair to mention that the map drawn by Alaskans for Fair Redistricting uniquely advantages liberal-leaning Assembly districts by shoring up Democratic votes in all 3 Democratic-leaning districts. It also protects their incumbents by leaving them in the districts they currently belong to, preventing them from having to run against each other in another election.

The remaining maps have a rather innocuous effect on the broader partisanship of these maps. As of now, this is the first map submitted by a conservative-leaning source.

Now, let’s look at the map submitted on behalf of the Bronson administration.

Brice Wilbanks (Bronson Map)

Map traced by Denny Wells

A look at the map shows that Brice pushes Downtown into West Anchorage and Turnagain, forcing West to be pushed southward into the Bayshore/Klatt and Oceanview areas that currently belong to District 6 (South-Girdwood). These areas may not be as deep red as Huffman or Eagle River, but they are clearly conservative and suspiciously placed into West’s District as opposed to South where they belong.

On the presidential level, the Mayor’s new map makes every single district redder compared to the current map. Denny Wells’ Map B does this as well, but not in any way that is different from other maps: Midtown typically gets redder because Downtown must expand, pushing Midtown south making them more competitive for conservatives. But the Mayor’s map stands out in targeting West’s district.

Table of shift in partisanship from current map to Mayor’s map
Map of presidential shift in mayor’s map (made in QGIS)

Under the Mayor’s map, West would go from voting Biden +12 to Biden +4. More importantly, it would move West from a 2016-2020 Composite Average of D +7 to R +0.6. The district still slightly favors a moderate-to-liberal Assembly candidate, but without as much voting power in deep-blue Westside and a solidly-Republican voting block in the south, conservatives could pull off a flip.

Thanks to the passage of Prop 12, there will soon be 12 Assembly members as soon as Downtown elects a second member of the district— which will overwhelmingly likely to be another progressive. Once that happens, lets assume the majority on the Assembly is now 10-2. If you managed to unseat both Austin Quinn-Davidson and Kameron Perez-Verdia in a red wave year, the Assembly would go to 8-4— barely enough for a veto-proof majority assuming every single Southside representative votes with progressive members of the Assembly.

Arguably, the map also carves out some odd areas of Midtown that seemingly cut down on liberal-leaning margins in the current District 4. It removed nearly 700 voters from Abbott near Service High, which give huge margins to liberal-leaning candidates, including voting against Assemblywoman Meg Zaletel’s recall by 250 votes. It also splits up the deep-blue Spenard area, diluting their voting power and taking more liberal-leaning voters out of Midtown.

Abbott split
Spenard slit

The new maps stay in effect until population changes trigger the need for reapportionment again, which won’t be evaluated until the next Census in 10 years. Whatever will be decided will be consequential for Anchorage’s municipal elections for at least a decade.

On a February 4th episode of the conservative talk-radio show The Dan Fagan Show, ER-Chugiak Assemblywoman Jamie Allard said she was working with another person (or group?) to submit a map of their own.

Read more about the reapportionment process here. The next action to be taken is an Assembly meeting on February 15th, where a final map will be introduced to the Assembly for deliberation. Public hearings and work sessions follow, concluding with a final meeting to adopt the plan on March 1st.

Anchorage Reapportionment welcomes 6 public map submissions

The Anchorage Reapportionment Committee has published 6 maps drawn by members of the community for a total of 10 maps under consideration. These maps were provided to the Committee on January 20th, and have been presented by their drafters at two town halls hosted by the Assembly.

As a reminder, reapportionment is the process of redrawing Anchorage’s six Assembly districts. The addition of a 12th Assembly seat passed by voters has triggered the city’s charter, mandating all districts be reapportioned.

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. For more info about the process, read my writeup here.

New districts must be as close to 48,541 people as possible. The addition of a 12th assembly member will cause Downtown, the single-member district that is half the size of neighboring districts, to expand significantly.

This post will 1) go over the maps proposed by the public and compare them to the ones drawn by Resource Data, the muni contractor hired by the Assembly to guide the reapportionment process, and 2) analyze the discussions that have taken place at town halls, which offer important insight as to what priorities the Assembly is keeping in mind for adopting a final map.

An overview of the muni-made maps

Originally, Resource Data drafted 5 maps that I wrote about when they were published. The consensus among everyone I know who has seen them, including multiple assembly members, is that they are not very good. Many of them make strange decisions about what communities to link together, and some are straight up never going to get passed by the Assembly. Now, Resource Data is only offering 4 of them up for consideration.

Note: the partisan data used in the breakdown columns are the estimated results of the 2020 presidential election. These results are calculated by taking the Harvard VEST calculations of Alaska’s election results and assigning absentees in proportion to the precinct or census block’s population.

Map 1
  • District 1 (Downtown) expands south to Tudor Road into current District 4, and east to Pine Street in current District 5
  • District 2 (Eagle River-Chugiak) loses the North Muldoon finger containing the Tikahtnu Mall
  • District 3 (West) loses Campbell Lake
  • District 4 (Midtown) pushes south into Independence Park and a bit of Hillside
  • District 5 (East) loses South Mountain View
West, East, and South get 3-4% bumps for Biden while Midtown gets a 2% bump for Trump

Pairs ConstantDunbar, and Zaletel in the same Downtown district; Rivera and Weddleton are in Midtown together

Map 2
  • District 1 expands south to the northern boundary of Northern Lights; pushes east into South Mountain View and Russian Jack
  • District 3 loses. Campbell Lake
  • District 4 pushes south into Independence Park
  • District 5 expands south into Abbot Loop and parts of Hillside
  • District 6 gains Stuckagain Heights
West and South get a 4 and 6 point bump for Biden, while Midtown gets slightly more conservative

Pairs ConstantDunbar, and Zaletel in DowntownRivera and Weddleton are in Midtown together

Map 3
  • District 1 expands northwest to encompass roughly a third of JBER previously in current District 2; moves east to Boniface Parkway and south to Northern Lights
  • District 2 absorbs Northeast Muldoon
  • District 3 loses Campbell Lake
  • District 4 takes in Independence Park
  • District 5 takes the North Muldoon finger previously belonging to District 2; pushes east into U-Med and south into Abbot Loop and parts of Hillside
  • District 6 takes in Stuckagain Heights
West, East, and South gets a 4-6% bump for Biden while Trump gains 3% in Midtown

Pairs ConstantDunbar, and Zaletel in DowntownRivera and Weddleton in Midtown

Map 4
  • District 1 pushes east to South Mountain View and Russian Jack, while pushing south to the boundary of Northern Lights
  • District 2 takes in Muldoon
  • District 3 loses Campbell Lake and a handful of residents from Kincaid
  • District 4 pushes south into Independence Park and parts of Hillside
  • District 5 expands into Elmendorf and Fort Richardson on JBER; expands east into U-Med and Far North Bicentennial
  • District 6 takes in Stuckagain Heights
Eagle River-Chugiak goes to Trump by 10 fewer percentage points while West and South get a 4-5% bump for Biden. Midtown goes to Biden by 4 fewer points.

Pairs ConstantDunbar, & Zaletel in DowntownRivera and Weddleton in MidtownPetersen with both Eagle River-Chugiak representatives (Allard & Kennedy)

The 6 public maps submitted to the Committee

These maps were submitted to the Committee by members of the public including Matt Greene, former Data Director for the AK Democratic Party; Danny Wells, an Anchorage photographer, Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, an organization led by AFL-CIO President Joelle Hall, Anchorage Action, a non-partisan group that organizes involvement in local government, and me (Robert Hockema), who both helped Anchorage Action submit their map as well as submitted a map under my own name.

Important to note: some of these maps will change now that the Committee has allowed us to modify our maps by February 4th.

Matt Greene
  • District 1 gains JBER to the north and South Mountain View to the east
  • District 2 gains Girdwood, Indian, and areas of South
  • District 3 loses Campbell Lake
  • District 4 gains more of the U-Med area
  • District 5 gains the North Muldoon finger encompassing the Tikahtnu Mall
  • The new District 6 includes Dimond Estates, Campbell Lake, Bayshore/Klatt, Rabbit Creek, and most of Hillside

Pairs Forrest Dunbar and Christopher Constant in Downtown

Anchorage Action
  • District 1 (Downtown) gains central Midtown
  • District 3 (West) gains Dimond Estates and West Dimond
  • District 4 gains Arctic and Independence Park
  • District 6 (South) gains Campbell Lake

Pairs ConstantDunbar, and Zaletel in DowntownRivera and Weddleton in Midtown

Robert Hockema
  • District 1 (Downtown) gains JBER and upper Midtown
  • District 2 (ER-Chugiak) gains East Hillside
  • District 4 (Midtown) gains Independence Park
  • District 6 (South-Turnagain Arm-Girdwood) gains Dimond Estates and Campbell Lake

Pairs Forrest Dunbar and Christopher Constant in Downtown

Alaskans for Fair Redistricting
  • District 1: Downtown, Mountain View, Fairview, and JBER including areas around its gates
  • District 2: Socio-economically integrated neighborhoods along the Chugach Mountains including Chugiak/Eagle River, Stuckagain Heights, and Hillside
  • District 3: West Anchorage west of Minnesota Drive
  • District 4: Midtown neighborhoods
  • District 5: East Anchorage east of Elmore/ Bragaw
  • District 6: Rabbit Creek area, Turnagain Arm, and the non-Hillside portions of South Anchorage

This is the only map offered by either RDI or the public that doesn’t pair any incumbent Assembly members together.

Denny Wells Map A
  • District 1 expands to Northern Lights Boulevard to the Alaska Railroad tracks, and east to Boniface and north of Northern Lights
  • District 2 loses the North Muldoon finger but gains Stuckagain Heights
  • District 3 moves west to Arctic, bordered by Tudor the north.
  • District 4 moves south to O’Malley and expands west into south of Tudor and north of the railroad tracks.
  • District 5 expands west to Lake Otis
  • District 6 expands north to cover all Bicentennial Park.

Pairs ConstantDunbar, and Zaletel in DowntownRivera and Weddleton in Midtown

Danny Wells Map B (coming soon)

What’s next?

With town halls and multiple work sessions underway, the Assembly will now consider community feedback on all maps as well as the recommendations of public submissions to propose a final map. This might be a map the Committee and Assembly really like, or it could be a new map that represents the wishes of all the current maps and feedback.

February 15thAssembly meeting: introduce proposed plan
February 24thPublic hearing
February 25thAssembly work session
March 1stPublic hearing; Assembly consideration and adoption of plan
May 2022Approved map will take place for elections after April 2022
Timeline for the remainder of the reapportionment process

Stay tuned for more updated on the process. Map updates will come as public submissions are revised, and as the Assembly considers the final map to put in front of the public for consideration.