Recently, in response to the news that “we the people” must now pay $400,000 out of Alaska’s public treasury to a plaintiff unhappy with the Republican Party’s partisan gerrymandering in the most recent reapportionment plan, a good friend proposed that reapportionment plans should be created by a process involving proven mathematical techniques and procedures.
Here is my response: There is a lot of merit in that idea and it could be done easily with AI. That’s the problem, of course. The political winds surrounding reapportionment would never let the binding legal authority for it to become law if an automated AI process was given the final authority for approval.
Nor would I, if I had any say in the matter.
However if, for example, the following three steps below are in place and followed:
1.) In the next reapportionment cycle following the 2030 census there is a requirement that an initial reapportionment plan be formally cast, on a date certain, as a prototype built using established AI techniques and processes, where appropriate, with all available and relevant facts of geography, demographics in the current census, rules of compactness and ballot access, and the Constitution itself as parameters as of a date certain.
2.) The prototype plan would then be subject to review and comments in order to report, within a fixed number of days, proposed changes to the prototype by the governor, or his or her designee, acting with the majority and minority leaders of the Alaska House and Alaska Senate, or their designees, all acting as regular members of a formal reapportionment board of five members with its authority established by Alaska Statute.
3.) The prototype plan with formal proposals for change by the reapportionment board would be followed by immediate review and, hopefully, final approval by the Alaska Supreme Court.
Then, with such a court-approved plan, I believe there is a good chance a truly nonpartisan reapportionment plan could pass political muster when further tested by challenges to the plan with subsequent — and inevitable — litigation.
• Jerry Smetzer is a long-time resident and homeowner in Juneau. He contracted to Alaska’s Reapportionment Board in 1990 to install and operate an automated mapping system needed to resolve legislative district boundary issues and problems following the board’s work with 1990 census data.