Maine voters are about to learn how members of a special legislative commission want to change the boundaries of Maine’s congressional and legislative districts.

But the proposals by Republicans and Democrats may not be revealed before a public hearing on Friday, members said, at least in part because of a shorter-than-usual deadline to send a final proposal to the Legislature.

About 23,300 voters will be shifted from Maine’s 1st Congressional District to the 2nd so that the two districts will once again have a near-equal number of voters. The new U.S. Census showed Maine’s population growth over the last 10 years, just 2.7 percent statewide, was largely centered in the state’s already more populous 1st Congressional District, which now has 704,211 people compared with 658,148 in the 2nd District.

The new boundary between the state’s congressional districts is being closely watched and could shift more Democratic voters into the more conservative 2nd District. The focus of proposed changes appears to be confined to communities in Kennebec County – the only Maine county with towns in both districts.

Meanwhile, the new census data means the commission also must redraw Maine Senate and House districts, as well as the district lines for the elected commissioners in Maine’s 16 counties. And the task of redrawing state Senate and House districts lines may be harder for the commission’s seven Democrats and seven Republicans to reach consensus on. In some cases, incumbent lawmakers could be shifted out of the districts they serve.

The panel’s 15th member and its chair is retired Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald Alexander. He warned members last month that the clock was ticking.

The commission is on a compressed timeline, even despite a recent state Law Court ruling giving them extra time, because of a delayed release of the detailed Census data it needs to do its work.

The commission must provide its final recommendation to the Legislature by the end of September. The Legislature then needs to give its final approval to reapportionment before Oct. 7, allowing the secretary of state enough time to provide details on the new district boundaries to both voters and candidates well ahead of the next statewide primary elections in June 2022. Without the data, candidates would not know which district they live in and whether they were eligible by residency to seek office there.

The shifting congressional district line is expected to affect a handful of towns in Kennebec County.

Kennebec is the only county in Maine split between the geographically sprawling, northern and rural 2nd District and its more southern, compact and urban 1st District.

SHIFT EXPECTED IN KENNEBEC

Kennebec also is relatively balanced politically. Registered Democrats number 34,103 compared to 31,210 Republicans, 32,782 unenrolled voters and 4,390 Green Party members, according to official voter registration numbers from the secretary of state from November 2020.

The county’s two largest cities, Augusta and Waterville, are currently in the 1st Congressional District, and they lean more Democratic than the county in general. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a nearly three-to-one margin in Waterville – 6,489 to 2,641. The split between the two major parties is more even in Augusta, with Democrats holding only a 1,250-voter edge.

Republicans and Democrats on the commission are expected to make their first formal proposal to each other on Friday. Those proposals and new district boundary maps also will be made public once they’ve been exchanged. The public also can weigh in on Friday provided they sign up to do so by 12:30 p.m. Thursday by emailing the commission at: [email protected]

The commission’s meeting will start at 9:30 a.m. and be broadcast on its YouTube channel, where its prior three meetings are archived in video.

Although negotiations have been going on behind the scenes between the caucuses for more than a month, few details have been leaked or shared. Each caucus has its own office space at the State House to work on drawing and redrawing the maps, and informal exchanges have been ongoing, as well.

While changes in Kennebec County are sure to generate debate, it will be the shifts in Legislative districts, especially the 151 House districts, that could be the most contentious. Those changes could result in some incumbent lawmakers losing their seats or being forced to move if their town of residence is pushed into an adjacent district to accommodate the shifting populations.

Republican reapportionment commission member Josh Tardy, a former House Republican minority leader who has served on four reapportionment commissions, said negotiators will try to avoid shifts that push any sitting lawmaker from office but that it is not always possible.

“I think both sides are trying to avoid that, but sometimes it’s just unavoidable and a consequence of redistricting,” he said.

Tardy said Wednesday that he expects more granular details on what the sides are proposing to be released Friday, even as the public would have its first chance to weigh in. He said the public shouldn’t expect anything “too creative” given the constraints the commission is under both time wise and as spelled out in Maine’s Constitution and laws.

URGING TRANSPARENCY

And while the commission is under a tight timeframe, some commission members are urging their colleagues to redraw the lines in as transparent a way as possible and with public input.  The commission also must consider shifting lines in ways that do not split cities, towns and neighborhoods between multiple districts, which can confuse voters and leave local voting officials with a large array of differing ballots to manage on Election Day.

Democratic commission member Matt Moonen, a former House Majority leader from Portland, said in August that maps of the proposals should be released ahead of any public hearing so those weighing in would know what they were commenting on. Moonen said granular details of how shifting lines will affect communities are often discovered from that public input.

“This is an incredibly tight timeline and it is really important that public have a chance to be heard,” Moonen said on Aug. 18.  He said hearing from the public would, “put pressure on the caucuses and their staffs to get to work and come with proposals and be ready to present those to the public so we can actually accomplish all of this within a six-week timeline.”

As of Wednesday, however, neither caucus had a proposal it was ready to share publicly.

Tardy said he was optimistic a consensus agreement would be reached in the Legislature that avoids sending the reapportionment decision to the courts and to an uncertain outcome. But he also said Republicans would be confident enough of any plan they put forward to argue for it in the courtroom as well.


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