By all accounts, Maine’s redistricting process this year – ratified by the Legislature on Wednesday – was civil, and, at least in public, harmonious.

With a tight deadline, the 15-member Reapportionment Commission reached unanimous agreement on the four “maps” – the two Congressional districts, House, Senate and county commissioner districts.

That had something to do with the experience and skills of the members, including the non-partisan chair, retired state Supreme Court Justice Don Alexander, and some old Republican hands, former Congressman David Emery and former legislative leader Josh Tardy.

But it also resulted from Maine’s astute constitutional provisions, requiring two-thirds legislative votes for passage, failing which the Supreme Court decides. If the parties don’t agree, both take a big risk whether the court will see it their way.

If other states used Maine’s system, there’d be little of the gerrymandering that recently disfigured congressional maps in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and elsewhere, the result of Republican sweeps of state legislatures in 2010.

Republicans did mighty well in 2020, too, but their gerrymandering abilities are limited because those two states, and Wisconsin, now have Democratic governors with a veto.

Electoral reform efforts have produced “independent” bipartisan commissions that supposedly take the politics out of redistricting. The early results, from a Washington Post headline: “New redistricting commissions splinter along partisan lines.”

We can ignore the calls for Maine to “improve” its process by adopting an independent commission. It wouldn’t.

Elected representatives know their constituents, and their needs, better than almost anyone else. After all, they get paid to do so.

You can remove politicians from the process, but redistricting remains an essentially political act. We can only neutralize partisan instincts, as Maine does, not get rid of them.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t curious aspects to redistricting, though not easily susceptible to solution.

The modern era of reapportionment stems from two landmark decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren. They’ve gotten less ink than the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation ruling, but may be even more consequential.

In Baker v. Carr (1962) the court, for the first time, held that redistricting plans could be reviewed judicially. It had previously been a wholly political process.

In Reynolds v. Sims (1964), the court, in an 8-1 ruling written by Warren, revolutionized state legislative districts through the principle of “one person, one vote,” meaning representation must be roughly proportional to population.

The court struck down a highly undemocratic law in Alabama, but in some New England states things were hardly better.

In Vermont, incredibly, each town or city had one House member. Burlington, the largest city, had the same representation as the smallest town – with about 1/100th its population.

The over-representation of rural areas ended, which, in the short term, proved a boon to Democrats who, then as now, are more concentrated in urban areas.

Maine made a unique compromise after Reynolds. It apportioned Senate seats – then two per county, with one extra for the three largest – into equal districts.

But Republicans gained abolition of multi-candidate House slates used in Democratic-majority cities like Lewiston, enabling them to win a few more seats.

It all works pretty well, except that subsequent court rulings created odd practices.

When Republicans and Democrats drew dueling congressional maps this year, they each had a deviation of exactly one person from the “perfect” sized district, each representing 680,000 people.

The final, negotiated map switched numerous towns in Kennebec County, where congressional redistricting has focused since the 2000 census.

Seven municipalities, including Augusta, are moving to the 2nd District, while six towns are heading in the opposite direction, to the 1st. Several were previously shifted, and are now moving back.

Such “perfection” isn’t possible elsewhere. Ironically, the smaller the district, the greater the deviation from “one person, one vote.”

This makes sense. Though Senate districts can vary by 3% and House districts by more than 10%, constitutional provisions against dividing up counties and towns are needed.

Several towns are still split between House districts, and one large town will have three different senators, but that’s the exception. No kind of representation is going to be effective if you don’t know who your representative is.

The legislative rules are a given, but congressional “perfection” is a response to previous court rulings in high-stakes cases. Allowing more deviation would have made things less confusing for Kennebec County voters; maybe next time we’ll try.

Unlike school integration, which never truly happened, the principles of Carr and Reynolds are so well established virtually no one questions them.

It doesn’t mean they can’t be improved on. Democracy is always going to be a work in progress.

Douglas Rooks has been a Maine editor, commentator, reporter and author since 1984. His new book is “First Franco: Albert Beliveau in Law, Politics and Love.” He welcomes comment at [email protected]

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