Map showing the proposed boundary changes for Kenai Peninsula Borough districts 2 and 3. (Map via Kenai Peninsula Borough)

Map showing the proposed boundary changes for Kenai Peninsula Borough districts 2 and 3. (Map via Kenai Peninsula Borough)

Assembly to consider new district boundaries

Some voters who live in the City of Kenai would elect representatives to the Nikiski seat on borough legislative bodies under proposed redistricting legislation that will be considered by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly next month. Some residents who currently vote in the central district would vote in the southern peninsula district.

The new district boundaries, if passed, would cap a reapportionment and redistricting process that the borough began last January. The 2020 census showed that some parts of the peninsula are losing or gaining residents at faster rates than other parts of the peninsula, which skews the way those areas are represented on the assembly and board of education.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly declared the borough to be malapportioned in early 2022, which kicked off a reapportionment process that put before borough voters the question of whether or not two seats should be added to the assembly and board of education.

Both the borough assembly and the board of education are composed of elected representatives from nine single-member districts representing Kalifornsky, Kenai, Nikiski, Soldotna, Sterling/Funny River, Seward/East Peninsula, Kasilof/Central, Homer and South Peninsula.

Voters ultimately opted to retain the current nine-member configuration, which a borough reapportionment committee had also recommended.

With nine districts, the target population for each is 6,533. That figure multiplied by nine is 58,797 — pretty close to the borough’s actual population of 58,799.

“What we’re trying to do, of course, is get one person one vote,” said Borough GIS Specialist Bobbi Sjogren during a Tuesday presentation to borough assembly members. “So that means equal representation for each person in each district. We want every district to have as close to the same number of people as possible.”

The largest deviation from the borough’s target population of 6,533 people per district, Sjogren told assembly members, was seen in Nikiski, where there were about 9.46% fewer people than that target. Nikiski’s deviation pushed the borough’s overall deviation to nearly 13.5%

To balance the scales, Sjogren said some voters in the northern part of the City of Kenai could move to the borough’s Nikiski district.

“We managed to get below that 10% by taking some of the voters out of District 2, which is Kenai, and assigning them to District 3, which is Nikiski,” Sjogren said.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Attorney Sean Kelley said Thursday that the need for fair apportionment comes from the equal representation standards of the U.S. Constitution. The Alaska Supreme Court in 1974 said that population deviations of more than 10% are unlawful unless the malapportionment is justified. While that ruling was in relation to a case of state redistricting, Kelley said the case has been cited in local rulings too.

“Lawful compliance with equal protections requires that all of the districts must contain populations that fall within a total deviation of 10 percent from the perfect population,” Kelley said via email.

The affected section of the Kenai district is east of the Kenai Spur Highway and north of Homestead Loop Road to the northern city limit at Borgen Avenue. The borough can’t break up census tracts, so there’s an awkward arm along California Avenue that, while still a part of the Kenai district, juts into the Nikiski district.

Another awkward census tract is part of District 9, or the southern peninsula. That district now includes more residents who live between the Sterling Highway and Cook Inlet north until about Milepost 150 near Katana Drive.

Under the proposed new boundaries, the largest deviation is still Nikiski, but it is much less — 4.7% under target, rather than 9.5%. The borough’s overall deviation would also drop— to 8.71% from 13.5%.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved for introduction Tuesday the ordinance that would adopt the new descriptions of the nine legislative districts. A public hearing on the ordinance will be held during the assembly’s Feb. 21 meeting.

Tuesday’s presentation can be streamed on the borough’s website at kpb.legistar.com.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

Map showing the proposed boundary changes for Kenai Peninsula Borough districts 7 and 9. (Map via Kenai Peninsula Borough)

Map showing the proposed boundary changes for Kenai Peninsula Borough districts 7 and 9. (Map via Kenai Peninsula Borough)

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