The Apportionment Commission held a public hearing on September 20 to hear public input on some of the district maps it released on September 16.
The commission has until September 27 to submit its redistricting recommendation report to the legislature for consideration. If it misses that deadline, drawing new district maps will become the responsibility of the judiciary.
The commission also unanimously voted to approve plans for new county commissioner districts and submit them to the legislature for approval. Both the Republican and Democratic caucuses agreed on the proposals for the districts.
Both David Emery, a liaison between the commission and the Republican caucus, and Greg Olson, a liaison between the commission and the Democratic caucus, spoke approvingly of the part counties played in developing the maps. Emery noted that Aroostook County, Penobscot County, Somerset County and Franklin County all sent input about commissioner districts to the commissions. Several counties sent maps to the commission that were approved. Olson said the input from the counties provided a sense of comfort that the commission was “doing the right thing on maps” and said he is hopeful the model will carry through the next time redistricting occurs.
Public comment at the hearing was mostly centered around the proposals for new U.S. Congressional Districts. Both the Republican and Democratic caucuses released separate plans, but both plans would move Augusta into the Second Congressional District.
At the beginning of the meeting, Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) noted that the maps produced by both caucuses are not final and not perfect, but that given the timeline under which the commission was working, they thought it important to put proposals forward for the sake of transparency and to receive public input. Jackson described the proposals as a “framework for a final product.”
Several people offered testimony that advocated for including Waterville in the Second Congressional District. The Democratic proposal for Congressional district does this, but the Republican plan does not.
Rep. Colleen Madigan (D-Waterville) testified to this effect arguing that the city has more in common with the northern half of the state than the southern half. She noted Waterville has good real estate but lacks the high-paying jobs and modes of public transportation connecting it to Boston that southern Maine possesses. She also noted that Waterville received more attention from politicians when it was part of the Second Congressional District, which benefited its economy.
Several members of the public also expressed their dissatisfaction with the quality of the maps the caucuses had provided. They complained the maps lacked enough detail for people who live close to the edge of district boundaries to know in which proposed district they would fall.
Several other members of the public proposed alternate plans to those put forward by the commission. Focusing on the Congressional district maps, they claimed the maps look “gerrymandered” and violated the rules laid out in the Maine Constitution and in Maine statute that require districts to be compact and contiguous.
In both cases where gerrymandering was alleged, the alternate plans put forward failed to fall within a one-person margin of population difference between Maine’s two Congressional districts. Both Emery and Olson explained that the Supreme Court has ruled districts have to be as close to even in terms of population size as is practical, which greatly affects the way districts are drawn.
Donald Alexander, the commission chair, noted that the caucuses agreed early on to only look at the population margin in Kennebec County. If the maps were gerrymandered, he argued, the proposals would have divided more counties than Kennebec.
Not included in discussion during the hearing were the new district maps for the state House of Representatives, which had not been released as the commission convened.
Before adjourning the meeting, the commission announced its intention to release maps for the new House of Representatives districts by the end of the day on September 20 and to hold another hearing to receive public input on September 22.
However, the commission later announced it was delaying the release of House maps until September 21. It also moved the date of its public hearing to September 23.