Job of redrawing Maine political districts awaits new Legislature
By David Farmer
By this summer, a whole lot of Maine people are going to move.
Not physically, mind you. But instead they are going to be shifted from Maine’s 1st Congressional District to the already sprawling 2nd Congressional District, which is likely to get even bigger.
In the 10 years since the last U.S. Census, Maine’s population has shifted south and toward the coast. The result: The 1st District has an estimated 30,000 more people than the 2nd District, according to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Based on voting results from this year, it’s possible the population shift has been even greater.
Under state law, the imbalance has to be fixed to bring the two districts toward a more even distribution of the state’s population.
Within the first three days of the legislative session, which is scheduled to begin on Dec. 2, the Legislature is required to establish a commission that will redraw the district maps for the U.S. House of Representatives, Maine House of Representatives and Maine Senate.
The Maine Constitution requires that the commission include an equal number of members from the two largest parties in the Legislature, the two largest state political parties and three members of the public.
The commission then makes its recommendation to the Legislature, which can consider the new maps or an alternative of its own. To be put in place, the new district maps must pass the Legislature with a two-thirds vote. The governor also has an opportunity to veto the maps presented by the Legislature.
If the Legislature doesn’t adopt a new map by June 11, the process shifts to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which is required to redraw the districts after taking into account public comments.
The reapportionment process is designed to avoid partisan gerrymandering and has an automatic relief valve should the commission or the Legislature and governor gridlock.
And while Democrats and Republicans might not agree on much, both groups — I suspect — would rather negotiate new U.S. House and state legislative districts than have judges draw the maps for them. Maine’s system requires that negotiation.
Maine law requires that the congressional districts be as “equally populated” as possible and that the new districts be as compact and contiguous as possible, while trying not to divide towns and counties.
Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is already geographically huge, while the 1st District essentially captures York and Cumberland counties and hugs up the coast.
Though the process to redraw Maine’s electoral maps has partisan safeguards built in, that doesn’t make the process any easier. Lawmakers’ districts will change. Voters will be moved around and the stakes are very high.
Rep. Chellie Pingree lives on the island of North Haven at the far northeastern tip of her district. Unless she joins President-elect Joe Biden’s administration or signals that she will not seek re-election, I cannot imagine a circumstance where new maps would be drawn that exclude the congresswoman’s home from her current 1st District constituents.
So if not the coast, where will the new map find enough voters to balance the two congressional districts? It’s a math problem with tremendous political consequences. Looking at the map of Maine, I don’t envy the commission.
Regardless of how the maps are drawn, Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is about to get geographically bigger and the 1st will be smaller. It’s also likely that the more conservative 2nd District will pick up voters who move it slightly to the left.
With the turmoil surrounding the 2020 election and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, most people probably haven’t given any thought to the new political maps we should have for 2022. Come the next general election, a lot of Maine voters might find themselves voting in a brand new district whether they knew they were moving or not.
David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children.