The state constitution tells us what’s supposed to happen every 10 years, but this year, no one knows how to do it.

In the year after a census, like 2021, a bipartisan advisory committee is charged with coming up with a map of the state, divided into equal congressional and legislative districts based on the latest population data, and sending it to the Legislature for a vote.

If the plan receives two-thirds support in both houses, the map is approved and those are the district lines for the next decade. If lawmakers can’t reach that threshold, the issue gets decided by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

The problem is that the Maine Constitution is very specific about when this is supposed to happen. The Legislature is required to vote on a map no later than June 11. If the court has to step in, it has only 60 days, or Aug. 10.

But COVID has delayed completion of the census, which provides the population figures that dictate where to draw the boundary lines. And the Census Bureau does not expect to issue its numbers until Aug. 24, two weeks after Maine’s constitutional deadline.

For all its specificity on the dates, the constitution does not tell us what to do next. But it should be clear about what has to happen.

The court needs to push back the deadline, so the state can follow the process as it is laid out, albeit a few months late.

Maine’s redistricting process is a good one. We never hear redistricting horror stories here, because partisan gerrymandering would be very difficult to pull off. The bipartisan advisory committee – which has equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans and is chaired by an independent – and supermajority requirement put pressure on all sides to come up with a fair map, and if they don’t agree, the least political branch of government steps in.

Drawing accurate district lines is important to a functioning democracy. Based on statistical projections, Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is about 20,000 residents short after a decade of population shifts. The district line needs to move so that every Maine vote carries the same weight and every candidate has to reach out to the same number of voters.

We sometimes talk about the difference between Maine’s more urban 1st Congressional District and the more rural 2nd as if they were separate countries.

But, so far, no one is seriously suggesting that we build a wall between the towns that lie on either side of the line that runs between them. There is not much of a two-Maines chasm between towns like the 1st District’s Harrison and Otisfield in the 2nd, or between Pownal in the 1st and Durham in the 2nd. There is really just one Maine.

The line may not have much cultural significance, but it does matter. Maine can’t meet the constitutional deadlines, but it can preserve the constitutional process, one of the country’s best.


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