Voters in Maine’s capital city of Augusta will likely be switching from the state’s 1st U.S. Congressional District to the 2nd under a pair of proposals by Republicans and Democrats on a special legislative commission tasked with redrawing the districts based on the 2020 U.S. Census.

But the parties disagree over whether Waterville, the second-largest city in Kennebec County, also should be moved to the 2nd District. Democrats favor the change while Republicans would keep it in the 1st District.

Republicans and Democrats also appear to agree on shifting the Democratic stronghold of Hallowell from the 1st District to the 2nd, but disagree over the town of Oakland, which Republicans want to move into the 1st District and Democrats want to keep in the 2nd.

Oakland is notable because it is where former 2nd District Republican Bruce Poliquin claimed residency while in office and where he still maintains a post office box. Poliquin has announced he is again seeking his party’s nomination in 2022 to challenge U.S. Congressman Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat who took the seat from Poliquin in 2018. Golden won re-election in 2020 by a wide margin.

Shifting Waterville’s voters to the 2nd District will likely meet Republican resistance because it would make the more conservative and rural northern district more Democratic.

Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in the city by a nearly three-to-one margin – based on November 2020 election data, the city had 6,489 Democrats and 2,641 Republicans. The split  is more even in Augusta, with Democrats holding a 1,250-voter edge.

Maps for the proposals by the Legislative Commission on Reapportionment were released late Thursday showing the competing proposals from the parties. The voting public will get a chance to weigh in on the proposed change during a public hearing next Monday.

The commission also released competing proposals for redrawing Maine’s 35 state Senate district lines. Both parties would leave the current districts largely intact.

The Democratic proposal would mean 67 percent of voters would keep their current state senators, should they be re-elected in 2022, while only 8 percent would have new representation based on the redrawn lines, said Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. The Democratic proposal would not redraw lines that would force any incumbent state senators to run against each other.

“Redrawing the Senate map is always challenging, but I’m proud of what the Senate Democrats have put together,” Jackson said in a prepared statement.

Jackson said he was looking forward to hearing from the public, noting that Democrats are still trying to negotiate a consensus map with Republicans.

OPTIMISM ON REACHING A DEAL

Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, who is serving on the commission for Senate Republicans said the differences between the proposals on the Congressional districts was close and he remained optimistic a deal both sides could agree to would be negotiated.

But Bennett also said he was eager to hear what voters had to say. “Obviously, we were hoping we could come to some consensus before we went out to the public with this,” Bennett said. “But I think we are pretty close, at least on the Congressional side.”

Bennett said there were greater deviations between the parties on how they reapportioned state Senate districts, and Republicans focused on keeping counties and other political subdivisions wholly within a district, while Democrats had more splits between counties, in some cases placing voters in three counties in a single Senate district.

He said Republicans also intended to continue good-faith negotiations in order to avoid having the courts redraw the lines. “I think having the Legislature come to an agreement will create a far better outcome for both parties,” Bennett said.

Still unsettled is how the commission will redraw the lines for the state’s 151 House districts. Those maps are expected to be released next week.

The commission now has only 10 days to consider public comment on the map before the panel, split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, must make a final recommendation to the Legislature.

The tight deadline is in part a result of a delay in the release of 2020 U.S. Census data. Maine’s population changes are driving the effort to rebalance the districts by adjusting the boundaries. Among other things, the redrawn boundaries must shift about 23,300 voters from the 1st Congressional District to the 2nd so the two districts will have a near-equal number of voters.

A TIGHT DEADLINE

Every 10 years, as required by the state and U.S. Constitution, lawmakers have to redraw the lines based on the latest population data. The process often involves careful negotiations as the parties jockey to gain demographic advantages at the polls.

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 District, which now has 704,211 people compared with 658,148 in the 2nd.

This month, the panel balked at releasing preliminary maps to the public for comment, further tightening the timeline for negotiating an agreement that can gain the support of two-thirds of both the House and Senate, as required by the state’s constitution.

The Legislature will likely be called to a special session before Sept. 26, a deadline imposed by the state Supreme Judicial Court for final approval of the maps. The court’s ruling this summer granted the commission 45 days to complete its work once it received the census data. While the Maine Constitution calls for the work to be done by June 1, the panel did not have the federal data until Aug. 16.

The commission also is tasked with redrawing county commission districts for nine of the state’s 16 counties that saw shifts in population significant enough to warrant rebalancing. Most of those changes will be in southern Maine, which saw the bulk of the state’s population growth since 2010.

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

The Legislature then needs to give final approval to reapportionment before Oct. 7, allowing the secretary of state enough time to provide details on the new boundaries to both voters and candidates well ahead of the statewide primary elections in June 2022. But a conflict in the schedules for House and Senate staff will push an earlier vote on the matter, likely by the end of September.

The new lines will allow candidates for the Legislature and Congress to know which district they live in and whether they are eligible by residency to seek office there, while also giving voters and state and local election officials time to learn the new lines and create appropriate ballots for the 2022 election cycle. The first statewide election impacted by the shift will be the June primaries, which will feature candidates for Congress, the governor’s office and the Legislature.

 

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