Lawmakers return to Augusta this week to finish work on a plan to redraw the line between the state’s two congressional districts.

Their work will end with a vote, but members of the Legislature should keep another vote in mind when they make their decision. That’s a constitutional amendment the Legislature sent to the voters for action on Nov. 8.

The amendment would change the law governing when and how the Legislature meets its burden of ensuring that the two congressional districts are equal population, as required by the U.S. Constitution. Among other things, it would require a two-thirds majority for new district maps.

That’s what the current law calls for, but it is governed by statute, which the Legislature can change at any time. There is nothing stopping the majority Republicans from changing the law and passing their favored redistricting plan by a simple majority vote.

But just because they can do something doesn’t mean that they should, and the current Legislature should not ramrod changes through that would be illegal if the constitutional amendment they support is a winner on Election Day.

Republican lawmakers cannot have it both ways: Either they support simple majority rules for everyone, or a collaborative system of compromise. Sneaking a radical redistricting though on a party-line vote before the door is permanently shut to such a maneuver would be wrong.

TWO DISTRICTS

At issue is a conflict on how Maine should redraw its congressional districts to reflect the relative population growth of the 1st District in Southern Maine, which had about 9,000 more residents than the 2nd District in the last census.

Republicans proposed a new district map that drew a line north from Brunswick’s boundary with Bath. That would change the congressional district for hundreds of thousands of residents (including current 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree) as well as move Lewiston-Auburn, the state’s second largest metropolitan area, into the same district as Portland.

The Democrats proposed minor tweaks to the current map, which would make a small number of Kennebec County residents change districts, evening out the population but leaving most Mainers in their current districts.

The bipartisan reapportionment commission split along party lines, with the lone independent on the board siding with the Democrats, sending its plan to the Legislature. There is hardly a consensus behind the Democratic plan, but it still has more to commend it than the Republican alternative.

For starters, the Republican plan trades an even safer Democratic 1st District, for the chance of a more Republican 2nd. This kind of jockeying for political advantage is not what the redistricting process should be about.

Republicans charge that there is no magic to the current districts, which were approved by previous Legislatures that were controlled by Democrats.

But we have never seen a change as dramatic as what has been proposed here.

SINCE THE ’60s

The current map looks very much like one drawn in the early 1960s when Maine went from three districts to two (at a time when the Legislature was controlled by Republicans). Over the decades it has been revised, but it has never been dramatically redrawn for partisan advantage.

Doing so now would be a poor choice, especially since a Republican-backed constitutional amendment would weaken the ability to change it back if a future election puts the Democrats back in charge. Trying to make a change like this right before the rules change would just add to the mistrust between the two parties and would not serve the people of Maine.

The best outcome would be a new congressional map that rebalances the two districts, but leaves the lines roughly where they have been for the last 50 years.

That kind of plan could get the support of two-thirds of both bodies, and would keep faith with the spirit of the constitutional amendment both parties are asking the people to support on Nov. 8.

If Republicans want to send representatives to Congress, they should focus on recruiting the best candidates and running good campaigns. Redrawing the congressional map should not be seen as an opportunity to shortcut that process.