The Apportionment Commission, which is responsible for using the 2020 census data to redraw Maine’s political districts, hopes to hold a public hearing on September 20.
The commission has not yet released maps to the public, but hopes to by the end of the week. The commission is responsible for redrawing Maine’s congressional districts, state House of Representatives and Senate districts, and county commissioner districts.
The commission has until the close of business on September 27 to approve a redistricting plan and submit it to the legislature for a final vote.
During its September 10 meeting, members of the commission emphasized the need to minimize the number of towns that would be split between districts, a move that would result in polling places having multiple ballots and that could cause confusion on election day.
The commission discussed a document containing preliminary median population counts for districts, reflecting the numbers from the 2020 census. According to the document, Maine’s congressional districts should have a median of 681,180 people. State Senate districts should have a median of 38,925 people and House of Representatives districts should have a median of 9,022 people.
The numbers also include a 5% margin above and below the median number. According to Greg Olson, a liaison between the commission and the Maine Democrats, the 5% margin is a guide for all plans and proposals being developed in coordination with the commission. Past judicial rulings have stated that the difference in population between districts needs to fall within a 10% margin in order to fulfill the state’s Constitutional and statutory requirements.
Members of the commission also discussed the hierarchy of values driving redistricting decisions, which are shared across political party lines. These values were developed from the state Constitution’s guidelines on redistricting, then by state statute, and finally by legal opinions that have been issued over the years. Members of the commission generally agreed their redistricting decisions should be driven by creating new districts with an equitable population distribution and a desire to avoid crossing the boundaries of political subdivisions.
The Maine Constitution requires that districts are compact, contiguous, and create equitable districts that cross political boundaries as few times as possible. While there can be a marginal difference of 10% in state legislative and county commissioner districts, Maine’s federal Congressional districts are required to keep the population district as close to a single individual as is possible. The current districts have a population difference of 46,063, which means 23,032 people need to be moved from the First District into the Second District.
Speaking to the Commission, Julie Flynn, Maine’s Deputy Secretary of State, noted that it’s impossible to avoid splitting some towns between Congressional districts. Where towns must be split, Flynn emphasized the commission should avoid making divisions along natural features, such as streambeds or railroad tracks. Fynn also stated that the commission should try to limit having multiple district splits between state House of Representatives and Senate districts in the same town.
The commission also discussed compromises that may need to be made to the values driving the commission’s redistricting decisions.
David Emery, a liaison between the commission and the Maine Republicans, stated that the compactness of redrawn districts needs to be driven by geography. Emery stated that there is a choice between drawing new district lines outside of a county, and staying within the same county compactness shouldn’t be the commission’s primary consideration.
The commission also considered a redistricting proposal from Somerset County for its county commissioner. The county does not need to be adjusted to fit the new census data. Though the committee generally approved of the plan that was submitted, they did not vote on it because it was not made available for them or the public to view prior to the meeting.
The committee noted that Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Washington, Hancock, Oxford, and Kennebec Counties do not need their county commissioner districts to be adjusted under the 2020 census data. A further four districts have populations that are out of proportion and need minor changes made to their county commissioner districts. Those counties are Cumberland, Franklin, Penobscot and York.
Maine’s remaining counties need major revisions made to their districts. These changes include working county commissioner districts into new voting districts. Because of its population distribution, the commission named Knox as a county where redistricting is complicated.
Several members of the commission also raised concern with the lack of public input the committee has received. Sen. Rick Bennett (R-Oxford) expressed the need for the committee to hold a hearing, rather than just accept public comment, before it puts any proposed maps to a vote.
Discussion surrounding this point led to the committee’s decision to hold a hearing on publicly available maps on September 20.