PORTLAND, Maine — The race is on to redraw Maine’s two congressional districts in time for the 2012 elections.
Three proposals have been submitted to a panel of three federal judges on how the process should proceed after the judges last week ordered the state to redraw the district boundaries before next year’s elections instead of waiting until the 2014 elections. Legislators have drawn up an order to establish a 15-member bipartisan commission to do the work.
The state Attorney General’s Office has proposed that the lines be redrawn and approved by the Legislature by Dec. 1, while the Maine Democratic Party has suggested an Oct. 17 deadline. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit that forced the districts to be reapportioned aren’t specifying a date in their proposal.
Janet Mills, who represents the Maine Democratic Party in the lawsuit, said Monday that she hopes there isn’t any “gamesmanship” during the process. When the districts were reapportioned eight years ago, the GOP proposed dividing the state vertically so Millinocket and Portland were in the same district, which would have forced the two Democratic congressmen to run against each other in the 2004 elections.
“We would be very leery of any such scheme being attempted this year as well,” said Mills, who is also the party’s vice chairwoman. “It’s simply political gerrymandering.”
Republican Sen. Jonathan Courtney, the Senate majority leader, said he’s confident the two parties can come up with a plan that follows the law and keeps towns and counties as intact as possible once the districts are redrawn.
Typically, Republicans and Democrats would put forth proposed redistricting plans and let the commission work out any compromises, he said. The Republicans have the upper hand because they hold the majority in both the House and Senate, but nobody on the GOP side is talking “gamesmanship,” Courtney said. A final plan would require two-thirds approval by the state House and Senate.
“If we get in a room and work together, more often than not we can come up with a solution,” he said.
State law stipulates that Maine redraw its legislative and congressional district boundaries every 10 years, in years ending in a “3.”
A lawsuit filed in March on behalf of two Cape Elizabeth Republicans contended that the congressional districts should be reapportioned this year in time for next year’s elections, rather than waiting until 2013 in time for the 2014 elections.
The complaint argued that the districts, based on 2010 census figures, aren’t as equal in population as required by the Constitution. There are 8,669 more people in the 1st Congressional District than in the 2nd District.
A three-judge panel on Thursday unanimously agreed, ordering the state to redraw the districts this year. The judges asked the plaintiffs, the state Attorney General’s Ofice and the Maine Democratic Party, which intervened in the case, to submit their proposals by the end of Friday for how the process should proceed.
The three-judge panel is expected to issue an order, possibly this week, on how the redistricting should occur. Nobody’s sure what it will say.
“None of us knows what the judges have in their minds,” said Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner.
If the state can’t come up with a plan on its own by a specified date, the federal court will devise one to be in place by Jan. 1.
Meanwhile, legislators have filed a joint order establishing a commission to reapportion the districts. It would be composed of six representatives and four senators — five Republicans and five Democrats — as well as the chairmen of the state Republican and Democratic parties. The final three members would be from the public, with one chosen by the GOP, one chosen by the Democrats and the third chosen by the other two public members.
The order stipulates that the commission would submit its suggested reapportionment plan to the Legislature by the end of August, with the lawmakers voting on it in a special session by the end of September.