By: Connor Skelly
On September 29, 2021, Maine Governor Janet Mills signed legislation creating new maps for Maine’s Congressional, State House, and State Senate districts. In Maine, the power to draw districts is given to a bipartisan apportionment commission.
The composition of this commission is mandated by the Maine Constitution to be: three members of the Maine House of Representatives from the majority party who shall be appointed by the House Speaker; three members of the House from the next largest party who shall be appointed by that party’s leader; two members of the majority party from the state Senate who shall be appointed by the President of the Senate; two members of the Senate from the next largest party who shall be appointed by their party’s Floor Leader, the chairperson of each of Maine’s two major political parties; and three members of the public.
One of the three members of the public shall be selected by each political party bloc in the commission. These two individuals will then select the third and final member of the commission. Fret not, this confusing language is designed to boil down to seven Democrats, seven Republicans, and one person who is agreed upon by both parties. The commission then draws redistricting maps that shall be sent to the Legislature. The Legislature may then either vote on the maps drawn by the commission or draw their own. A two-thirds super majority vote is required for either potential set of maps to be enacted. If the legislature fails to meet this threshold, the responsibility to draw the maps falls to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
As could be expected, Covid-19 through a wrench into these well-laid plans. The Maine Constitution stipulates that the apportionment commission must submit its maps to the Legislature by June 1. The Legislature must then enact either those maps or its own maps by June 11, or else the State Supreme Court takes over. The Maine Constitution also mandates that districts be apportioned equally according to population data from the United States census. In a normal census year, federal law requires that census data be reported to the states on April 1 of the year following the census (April 1, 2021 in our case). With this being said, census data was not reported to Maine until August 16, 2021. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued an order to extend the deadline for the commission’s maps to be submitted to the Legislature to 45 days after they had received the data from the Census Bureau. The legislature would then have 10 days to enact a map before the court would step in.
Instead of having several months to draw maps, the commission and the legislature had to act in a matter of weeks. In a display of efficiency and bipartisanship that has been sorely lacking in other states, Maine got the job done. The Maine House of Representatives voted to approve maps drawn by the commission in 110-10 vote, while the Senate unanimously voted 31-0 to approve the maps. The new maps shift 23,300 voters from Maine’s 1st congressional district into the northerly 2nd district.
The state capital of Augusta will now reside in the 2nd district as well as several other smaller towns. This shift will probably make the 2nd district lean slightly further to the left, but not in a large enough way impact anything except for very close elections. Maine State Legislative districts became geographically larger in the sparsely populated northern part of the state, and more densely populated and geographically compact in the southern part to account for population growth in that area. In a statement, Governor Mills applauded the apportionment commission as well as the legislature for achieving redistricting without partisan rancor, something that all too often cannot be said in this country.