Lawmakers soon will be faced with radically different plans for redrawing the boundary between the state’s two congressional districts. One features straighter lines and a difference of only one person between the two districts — top priorities for the state’s Republicans. It does, however, move about 360,000 people from one district to another. The Democratic plan moves Vassalboro from the 1st District to the 2nd.
The choice for lawmakers should be easy — they should go with the simplest change that meets the requirements of the law and affects the fewest voters.
Recent history has shown this is unlikely to happen. Redistricting lines were imposed by the state supreme court in 2003 because lawmakers couldn’t agree on a plan. Maine doesn’t have to go down this road again.
Because of a lawsuit by two southern Maine residents, a federal court earlier this year ordered the Legislature to redraw the congressional boundaries now, rather than in 2013, when lawmakers were scheduled to do it. The change is needed because the population gap between them had grown too large, according to figures from the 2010 census. Under current configurations, the 1st district has 8,667 more people than the 2nd, in violation of the “one person, one vote” standard of the Constitution.
A commission of seven Republicans, seven Democrats and an independent chairman was set up by the Legislature. It must complete its work in time for the Legislature to vote on a redistricting plan during a special session on Sept. 27.
In its simplest form, 4,333 people have to be moved from one district to another to even them out.
There are few requirements for the work: The district boundaries must be contiguous and no town can be split.
Republicans made it clear Monday, when the two plans were unveiled, that their standard is a difference of only one resident between the districts. Keeping the districts as even as possible is crucial, but moving 360,000 people isn’t necessary to do that.
The Republican plan changes the districts from a north-south orientation to one that is more east-west. Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc County would be moved from the 1st to the 2nd District. Oxford and part of Franklin County would move from the 2nd to the 1st, as would Lewiston and Auburn.
Current 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree’s home island of North Haven would move from the 1st District to the 2nd, which is represented by Mike Michaud. Both are Democrats.
The fact that the GOP changes are so sweeping points to a desire to remake the districts so they are more favorable to Republican candidates for Congress and the presidency. This is especially true of the 2nd District, which would become more conservative without Lewiston and Auburn and the addition of portions of Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties.
Because Maine allows two of its four electoral votes to be split by district, a Republican presidential candidate could potentially pick up an additional electoral vote under the proposed GOP map.
The plan presented by Democrats Monday would move the Kennebec County town of Vassalboro from the 1st District to the 2nd.
Sadly, gerrymandering has become a routine part of redistricting work, with some districts across the country resembling puzzle pieces or ink blots.
Maine should not go down this road. A redistricting committee meets again next week. There is a lot of room for compromise between the two proposals.