Constitutional amendment on redistricting approved by Mainers

Posted Nov. 08, 2011, at 10 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 09, 2011, at 8:21 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Mainers have approved by a 5-percent margin a constitutional amendment altering the state’s voter redistricting process.

Question 4, which sought to adjust the schedule used for the voter reapportionment process every 10 years and require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for congressional redistricting, jumped to a razor-thin lead in early results tabulated by the Bangor Daily News and widened that lead through the night. By early Wednesday, with 517 out of 594 precincts reporting, Question 4 was winning with nearly 53 percent of the vote.

Kevin Lamoreau of Manchester might be the biggest fan of Question 4, which for most voters is likely overshadowed by the other issues on Tuesday’s ballot.

“I predicted on one website recently that it would pass 53-47 percent,” said Lamoreau Tuesday night before the results were clear. “The fact that it clearly hasn’t gone down in a landslide is good. I’m pleased with the vote.”

Lamoreau, a frequent commenter on the As Maine Goes and Dirigo Blue websites, has been working in favor of changing the redistricting schedule since 2008, when he first presented the idea to then-Rep. Patricia Jones, D-Mount Vernon. Jones’ bill failed because of the cost. Two years later, Lamoreau presented the same idea to Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, which is what resulted in Question 4 on Tuesday’s ballot.

Keschl said he was pleased to co-sponsor the bill because adjusting Maine’s redistricting schedule makes sense. Keschl said he knew of no opposition to the constitutional amendment, but feared some voters would not understand the densely worded question at the polls.

“It looks like it’s going to be close,” he said at about 9:15 p.m. Tuesday. He was right. The margin on Question 4 was far narrower than any of the other three statewide referendum questions.

Rep. Meaghan Maloney, D-Augusta, who co-sponsored the bill, attributed the close vote to Mainers’ caution about making major changes to the state constitution.

“For the people who vote against this, it’s out of caution about changing the state constitution, but there’s still a strong contingent of people voting for it,” she said late Tuesday evening. “I’m glad. This is going to force the two political parties to work together.”

The positive vote on Question 4 amends the Maine Constitution to align Maine with the time frames of other states’ redistricting laws for federal, state and county offices. Redistricting or reapportionment is the process used to ensure that each county, state and federal electoral district has an equal number of constituents.

Keschl originally proposed a bill reflecting the redistricting plan last year, but it failed to pass. The Legislature voted in June of this year to put the question to a statewide vote.

Since 1983, Maine’s Constitution has called for the state to re-examine its redistricting boundaries three years after the federal census, according to information from the Secretary of State’s office. Tuesday’s vote moves the redistricting process to the first year following the federal census on housing and population, which is done every ten years. The current redistricting effort, which is based on the 2010 census, will be completed as planned in 2013. Following Tuesday’s vote, redistricting will next be done in Maine in 2021, instead of 2023, and every 10 years thereafter.

An apportionment commission will have until June 1 of those years to submit a state and congressional reapportionment plan to the Legislature, which in turn will have until June 11 to approve that recommendation or develop and enact its own plan. For county seats, the reapportionment commission will have a later deadline — Jan. 15, 2022, and every 10th year thereafter — to make a recommendation to the Legislature, which will be required to act on the plan or develop its own within 30 days.

In addition to adjusting the time frame, Question 4 adds county and federal redistricting processes to the constitution. Currently, the constitution addresses only state-level elections and county and federal redistricting are spelled out in state law.

Whereas state law currently requires a simple majority vote for congressional redistricting, the constitutional amendment created by Question 4 requires two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature. The Maine Constitution already requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate and House of Representatives for legislative redistricting. If the Legislature fails to act in advance of the deadline, the task falls to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

According to a fiscal impact statement prepared by the Legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review, redistricting costs the state about $280,000.

To see full election results broken down by town, visit maineelections.bangordailynews.com.

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