Members of the 15-member Apportionment Commission that unanimously agreed upon new legislative and county commission voting districts can take pride in their accomplishment. If approved, the new legislative district maps won’t seriously alter the power relationship between Democrats and Republicans in the State House, but redistricting always has the potential to stir up partisanship.
If the maps, which were released Friday, win two-thirds approval in the Maine House and Senate before June 11, it will mark the first time in two decades that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court will not be forced to make the final determination on at least one branch of the Legislature’s district boundaries.
Redistricting is a “distinctly political process,” according to Michael Friedman, an independent who chaired this year’s commission as well as the 2011 panel that endured weeks of partisan arm-twisting before achieving compromise on new congressional district boundaries for 2012.
As evidenced by the 13 recounts requested for 2012 legislative elections, a few votes can decide races, which in turn can determine who gains majority status in the Maine House and Senate. Redistricting defines the political landscape for a decade. That’s why conflicts over the process so often end up in court or create scenarios like the one in which 51 Democrats in the Texas Legislature fled the state in 2003 to avoid a vote on congressional redistricting.
Apart from the political stakes, redistricting directly affects the one person-one vote principle and the value Maine voters place in making personal connections to the people they elect to represent them. The commission’s compromise — which minimizes disruption by drawing largely contiguous districts that rarely cross municipal lines and preserve existing boundaries — represents a victory for democracy over partisanship.