AUGUSTA — The Maine Legislature approved new boundaries Wednesday for the state’s two congressional districts, 151 state House districts and 35 state Senate districts.

Gov. Janet Mills signed the changes into law Wednesday afternoon.

The new lines reflect changes in Maine’s population based on data from the 2020 U.S. Census. The state and U.S. constitutions require the boundaries be adjusted every 10 years to reflect population changes and ensure a near-equal number of residents in each district.

In a series of largely perfunctory votes, with little fanfare or debate, the House and then the Senate approved the changes with more than the two-thirds majorities required for the plans to take effect in 2022.

The House meets in a special legislative session Wednesday at the Maine State House in Augusta. The House and then the Senate approved new voting districts. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Among the biggest changes is the shifting of Augusta from the state’s southern and more compact 1st Congressional District into the more northern, rural and sprawling 2nd District.

Based on the unanimous recommendation of a bipartisan Apportionment Commission, the new voting lines shift 23,300 voters from the 1st District to the 2nd to make their populations more equal.

State House and Senate districts were also reshaped to reflect Maine’s 2.7 percent population growth over the last 10 years. Much of that growth was in the southern part of the state, leaving the congressional districts unbalanced with 704,211 residents in the 1st District and 658,148 in the 2nd District.

The commission’s work, which is usually done over several months, was compressed in 2021 because of a pandemic-related delay in the release of census data. The state constitution requires the process be completed by June 1, but the commission did not have the data needed to redraw the maps until mid-August. A state Supreme Judicial Court ruling in July gave the commission just 45 days to finish the job once it had the data, which meant the Legislature had to approve the plans by Wednesday.

Mills signed all four redistricting bills later Wednesday, making Maine the second state to complete the process behind Oregon, which approved their new maps earlier this week. Mills also lauded the commission and the Legislature for their bipartisan work.

“I applaud Maine’s Apportionment Commission, especially its Chair, former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald Alexander, as well as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for preparing and approving new maps that fulfill our commitment to making sure Maine people are equally and fairly represented in their government,” Mills said in a prepared statement. “To have done so without rancor and partisanship and under a constrained timeline is something Maine people can be proud of.”

Only a handful of lawmakers objected to the new maps, including Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden, who said the new Senate map would divide the island communities of Vinalhaven and North Haven, which currently vote in the same district.

Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, said she would vote against the new House lines because they split the towns of Trenton and Ellsworth, which are currently together in House District 132, which she represents. Under the new map, Trenton will be included with towns on the Blue Hill peninsula.

Also voting against the new House map was Rep. Benjamin Collings, D-Portland. Collings said the new House districts for Portland cut his current district in half and he couldn’t support the new shape. The House still voted overwhelmingly to approve the new map, 110-10.

The maps also shift more legislative seats toward the more populous southern part of the state making House and Senate districts more geographically compact in the south, while making districts in the less-densely populated north larger. The new maps also essentially create a new state Senate district for rural southwestern Maine, a region typically dominated by Republicans.

The new Senate map, which was approved on a vote of 31-0 in the Senate, also shifts northwestern Maine districts eastward, expanding District 18, which includes all of Oxford County, into parts of northern Franklin County, which is currently in District 17. District 17 expands into parts of Somerset County.

Portland will still be represented by three state senators, although only one district will be wholly within city limits while the other two will pick up parts of the city along with Long Island and parts of Westbrook.

Unlike many states, Maine’s process is largely protected from gerrymandering – the process of drawing district lines to the advantage of one political party over another – because it requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for approval. In many states, the party in majority power is allowed to redraw the lines, often leading to strange carve-outs that give that party political leverage.

Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, informs the Senate that the House has convened and is ready to start the special legislative session Wednesday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

In an unusual joint release, leaders of the Legislature’s Democratic majority and Republican minority all praised the votes Wednesday and commended the commission for its work.

“It is because we believe Maine people deserve better than partisan fighting and political games when it comes to making sure they have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives,” said Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. “The odds certainly were not in our favor but once again, Maine lawmakers have proven that bipartisanship is alive and well in Augusta.” Jackson also served on the commission.

House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, said Maine stood out nationally because of its fair and cooperative redistricting process. “Gerrymandering isn’t something we worry about in Maine,” Dillingham said.

House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, said all sides can be proud of the process.

“Sometimes it takes a few weeks and many hours of working out our differences, but the result of the latest apportionment process shows that when all sides sit down and work together, we can arrive at a positive outcome for the people of Maine,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner.

Had the Legislature failed to reach two-thirds approval of the new lines, the districts would have been redrawn by the state Supreme Judicial Court.

The Legislature also Wednesday overwhelmingly approved new lines for the county commission districts in all 16 counties.

The first time voters will participate in the newly drawn districts will be during statewide primary voting in June 2022.

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said she appreciated the bipartisan agreement and the “smooth and swift” process, despite the data delay, which will allow her staff to build the new districts into the state’s voting systems by January. “So that candidates and voters next year know which districts they’ll be voting and running in,” Bellows said. “We’re ready to begin our work to ensure that starting in January, candidates can start collecting signatures to get on the 2022 ballot.”

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