SOUTH PORTLAND – I fidgeted at the intersection of Ocean and Highland for an eternity, wondering why the light was still red. It was a “bad air quality day.”

Anybody with their windows open was enduring excess noise, dust, and fumes without justification. No crossing or opposing traffic entered the intersection. I waited.

South Portland’s traffic lights are irritating, but Department of Public Safety “Crime in Maine” reports are alarming.

In 2008, 188 juvenile females were arrested for larceny in South Portland: That’s 28.7 percent of all females arrested for juvenile larceny in Maine that year!

South Portland arrest statistics account for about 25 percent of all female juveniles nicked for larceny in Maine for nine years running, yet less than 2 percent of all underage Maine females actually live in South Portland.

Larceny is one of very few crimes where females are arrested at a rate anywhere near males. In South Portland, juvenile female larceny arrests consistently top juvenile male larceny arrests, pacing and even surpassing total male larceny arrests.

South Portland’s juvenile larceny arrests represent a legitimate public policy issue — the kind of policy issue quality political leadership is honed on.

The light turns green. At Broadway and Ocean, I meet another red light where crossing traffic ebbs well before the light turns green. I proceed to the next light. It’s red.

In April 2011, Maine will receive population statistics from the U.S. Census, and the public process of redrawing political boundaries at many levels of government will begin anew.

The key principle behind redistricting is “equal apportionment.” This is the division of the total population into equally populated districts based on the number of seats available for elected representatives. The Maine Revised Statutes require that municipalities apportion their districts equally.

Maine law holds that the difference between the populations of municipal elective districts should not exceed 10 percent. Federal law stipulates that congressional districts must be effectively equal.

“Plan Deviation” is calculated by separately subtracting the ideal — equal per district population — from the largest and smallest districts’ actual populations, then adding the differences together. When the summed differences are greater than 10 percent of the ideal, the district plan is considered “a bad plan.”

Deviation is often seen as a proxy for fairness; a measure of how much more weight one person’s vote carries in a less than ideally populated district than one person’s vote carries in a more than ideally populated district.

South Portland City Council’s smallest of five districts, District 2, is 12.3 percent short of its ideal population.

Three other districts split census blocks, the smallest area to which population is aggregated for redistricting.

When census blocks are split by districts, the populations within are no longer actually enumerated; they’re actually guesstimated. Anyway, District 2’s deviation is already greater than 10 percent, so South Portland’s district plan would normally fall outside legitimate federal, state and city rules on apportionment.

The reason South Portland’s plan deviation is out of whack is that the city last redrew the district lines by apportioning only registered voters and not the entire population.

Five of the seven city councilors may be required to reside within district boundaries, but they are elected at-large (by everyone) along with the other two councilors. So while South Portland has five districts, the city remains one at-large seven-member elective district.

If the five district councilors were elected by voters from their districts, it would be a different matter because Districts 4 and 5 combined contain hundreds more non-apportioned children than Districts 1 and 2 combined.

Fair political districts ultimately support the right to equal representation for all, and not just equality among voters. Article IV of Maine’s Constitution presents a problem in this regard.

Noncitizens in Maine are stipulated to be excluded in apportioning state legislative districts, but neither the U.S. Constitution nor the courts nor the Census provides a means or justification for establishing citizen-only enumeration for purposes of apportionment.

Actually enumerated citizen data doesn’t exist and, as frightening as South Portland’s juvenile arrest rate is, a state policy based on systematic noncitizen disenfranchisement presents an absolutely nightmarish scenario.

The light is now green and I’m finally on the bridge. It’s up. My fellow drivers and I have gone a mile or so in eight minutes, and now we wait, many at idle, while a tugboat drags a tanker to the oil terminal.

 

– Special to The Press Herald