Judge to Decide on Fairbanks Redistricting Petition

A state judge will decide this week on the Fairbanks Borough’s petition to dismiss its challenge to the proposed new state voter district map.  The Borough Assembly voted to drop the suit in an executive session earlier this month, citing concerns about mounting legal costs.  If approved by the court, the decision would leave two Fairbanks area residents, who have also filed suit, alone to challenge the State Redistricting Board.  The suits were combined and set for trial in January. During Thursday’s regular meeting, the Assembly heard substantial public backlash about its move to drop out.  One of the two local men suing, George Riley, told the assembly that a recent ruling by the judge in the case supports claims that a proposed district that would lump portions of Fairbanks in with western Alaska villages, violates a state constitutional requirement that voter districts be compact and socio economically similar. Riley told the assembly the judge’s decision also reduces legal costs for complainants.

Riley’s Attorney Mike Walleri has indicated he will formally challenge the Fairbanks borough’s decision to dismiss its claim, and only participate as a friend of the court on behalf of remaining complainants.   Another person who testified at the assembly meeting, Bruce Jamieson of Ester said any additional legal costs would be well worth it, given what’s at stake if Fairbank’s clout is undercut in the state legislature.

Another testifier, Ian Olsen questioned the assembly’s move to back out of the suit in an executive session.

Olsen said parts of west and south Fairbanks carved out to bring up rural district population numbers, disenfranchise local voters   Van Lawrence of Fairbanks raised concern about a proposed districts that put parts of the Fairbanks Borough in with more rural areas.

The assembly did not respond to public comments critical of its decision to request its redistricting suit be dismissed. A judge is scheduled to rule Wednesday on whether to accept the Fairbanks Borough’s request.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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