June 21, 2011

Three groups submit redistricting proposals for Maine

Maine must redraw its districts before the next congressional election due to a shift in population.

By Ann S. Kim akim@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The three parties involved in a redistricting lawsuit would bring different approaches to the task of redrawing the boundary between Maine's two congressional districts before the 2012 election, a year earlier than expected.

The state, the defendant in the federal case, would leave open the details while it worked toward a resolution.

The plaintiffs, two residents of Cape Elizabeth, assume that a panel of federal judges will eventually make the decision.

The state Democratic Party, an intervenor, prefers to follow the standard procedure with a compressed timeline.

The federal judges who determined that redistricting must be done before the next congressional election chose not to spell out how Maine should accomplish that goal. Instead, they asked the parties to submit proposals by Friday of last week and gave them until Monday to comment on any of the proposals.

Maine is facing the earlier deadline because the plaintiffs – William DeSena and Sandra Dunham – asserted that their votes would be diluted if the congressional districts were based on outdated census data. The 2010 census revealed a southward shift that put the population of the southern, coastal 1st Congressional District at 668,515 and left the 2nd District with a population of 659,848.

The plaintiffs suggest that the panel of federal judges – Bruce Selya of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, D. Brock Hornby and George Singal – should complete a plan by Jan. 1, 2012, when nomination papers for congressional candidates are available.

The plan submitted by the plaintiffs' lawyer, Timothy Woodcock, says the parties should still be required to submit proposed schedules by July 8, allowing the court to set deadlines for elements like discovery, expert witnesses and hearings by July 15. In the meantime, Woodcock said, the parties would keep the court updated on the Legislature's progress toward redistricting.

"Our aspiration all along has been that the state redraw these lines. We would prefer it that way. We asked the court to redraw the lines, but it was a way to get the state's attention," Woodcock said.

State officials, represented by the Attorney General's Office, propose that Maine be given a Dec. 1 deadline to put a plan in place. The proposal does not detail the steps, other than to explain that it would either be by action of the Legislature and the governor or by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The plan has the federal judges take over and redraw the lines by Jan. 1, 2012 if the state misses its deadline.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are Gov. Paul LePage, Maine Senate President Kevin Raye, House Speaker Robert Nutting and Secretary of State Charles Summers.

Officials attached to the state's plan a proposed joint order on redistricting from the Legislature, which reconvenes June 28. The proposed order calls for the formation of a bipartisan commission within seven days of the order's passage, an Aug. 31 deadline for the commission to make its recommendation and a deadline of Sept. 30 for the Legislature to act.

Because the order would be emergency legislation, it requires a two-thirds vote for passage, according to Jim Cyr, a spokesman for Nutting.

The state had its document ready Friday, but it wasn't filed until Monday due to a mistake with its electronic submission.

Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner said state plan doesn't rely solely on passage of the proposed legislative joint order but is consistent with it.

The defendants agreed with the plaintiffs that it would be unconstitutional to leave the district boundaries unchanged until after the 2012 election.

The Maine Democratic Party's proposal stressed the need to protect a methodical, bipartisan process.

The plan leaves in place the 15-member bipartisan commission, the two-thirds majority required for the Legislature to enact a plan, and the requirement that the state supreme court take over if the Legislature fails to act.

Under the Democrats' proposal, the commission would be convened by June 30 and submit a plan by Aug. 1. The Legislature's deadline would be Sept. 1 and the supreme court's would be Oct. 17.

Former Attorney General Janet Mills, who represents the Democratic Party, noted that the federal judges changed the time frame of Maine's process but did not require other changes in state law.

"Our process is a very fair one which requires bipartisan cooperation," she said.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: akim@pressherald.com

 

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