AUGUSTA, Maine — Redrawn maps of Maine House and Senate districts are on their way to Gov. Paul LePage after gaining overwhelming support in both chambers Wednesday.
Maine must redraw House, Senate and county commission district boundaries every 10 years to account for population changes reflected by the U.S. Census. A 15-member Reapportionment Commission — made up of seven Democrats, seven Republicans and one independent — spent five months reworking the district maps, which will determine Maine’s electoral landscape for legislative races in 2014. The commission released those maps Friday.
A state constitutional amendment that passed in 2011 requires two-thirds majority votes of the House and Senate to approve the new districts. Both chambers easily surpassed those margins Wednesday.
The Senate unanimously backed the redistricting bill, LD 1557, without a roll-call vote after the House endorsed it 133-11. Maine law requires the new districts to win approval by June 11, otherwise the Maine Supreme Judicial Court would be called upon to determine the districts. Court intervention has been required for at least one chamber of the Legislature in each of the past two rounds of redistricting.
Based on the 2010 census, the optimum population for a House district would be 8,797. For a Senate seat, it would be 37,953. According to the House Democratic Office, each of the new 151 House districts and 35 Senate districts would fall within 5 percent of that population target.
Democrats and Republicans hailed the new maps and the process that led to them as a significant act of bipartisanship. However, at least one independent, whose district will be altered greatly, labeled the process unfair and exclusionary.
Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, I-Friendship, whose town of residence will become part of a district that includes Waldoboro, currently represented by Republican Rep. Ellen Winchenbach, lambasted the redistricting process.
“It’s a way to get people with an independent voice removed from office,” he said from the House floor. “It’s not fair to me and Rep. Winchenbach. We’ve been gerrymandered into a contest in 2014.”
Evangelos’ lament echoes complaints raised 10 years ago when redistricting wiped out a Portland district held by the Legislature’s only Green Independent Party member, Rep. John Eder.
Voicing his disappointment in the redistricting process, Evangelos urged more candidates to run as independents “because we would probably get more work done around here.”
Evangelos was the only one of five independents in the Legislature to vote against the redistricting bill Wednesday. Ten other House members, including Democratic Rep. Andrea Boland of Sanford, who said she opposed the way her hometown of Sanford had been divided, voted against the redistricting plan.
Democratic and Republican legislative leaders and Apportionment Commission members praised the end result during brief discussion of the maps on the House floor and in statements issued after the votes.
“Nobody’s going to be 100 percent happy, but this is about as good as it gets,” Assistant House Republican Leader Alexander Willette of Mapleton said in a prepared statement. “The apportionment process gave commission members an education in our state’s demographic shifts and economic geography. It brought to light many of the factors that are hindering job growth, especially in rural parts of Maine.”
“It wasn’t always easy, but no one gave up,” said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash, who also served on the commission. “It’s nice to see a compromise on an issue as tricky as redistricting.”
The 2011 constitutional amendment also changes the time frame for the next legislative redistricting. It will occur in 2021 and every 10 years thereafter, aligning with congressional redistricting and with the practice in most states.