AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s redistricting commission reached a last-minute agreement Monday to redraw the state’s 35 Senate districts, avoiding a potential court battle over the maps that will shape state politics for the next decade.
The final maps reflect increased political power for southern Maine, where more districts are now concentrated, while districts in the northern part of the state grew in geographic size due to population decreases.
Maps still have to be approved by a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Maine Legislature when lawmakers convene on Wednesday. But party operatives and legislative leadership have been heavily involved with the redistricting process, making it all but certain they will get through.
The 15-member commission was working with a shortened time frame as census delays meant the data needed for redistricting was not released until mid-August, more than two months after Maine’s constitutional deadline. But the state’s high court granted the group 45 days after the data release to complete its work.
Lawmakers did not release maps, however, until that 45-day period was three-quarters of the way through, and had struggled in particular to reach a compromise on Senate maps. Congressional and Maine House maps were approved last week.
Senate seats in York County, which has seen among the greatest population growth in the state over the past decade while also shifting more toward Democrats politically, were particularly controversial. Republicans aimed to pack Democrats into a few districts while creating other competitive ones, while Democrats proposed a map that would give them an advantage in all but one district.
The final proposal falls somewhere in between, essentially adding a new, Republican-leaning district that includes the western part of York County along with the Sebago Lakes region and two Oxford County towns, all but assuring Republicans will maintain at least some Senate presence in southern Maine. The district that includes Sanford will likely become more competitive, but Sen. David Woodsome, R-Waterboro, who currently represents it, is term-limited. Other districts in southern Maine are largely friendly to Democrats.
In Penobscot County, the district including Brewer will now run west through Hampden and include fewer Hancock County towns, while towns to the northwest of Bangor are absorbed into a district that also includes Piscataquis County. Several towns in northern Penobscot County, including Millinocket, were added to the district currently represented by Sen. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, which includes southern and eastern parts of Aroostook County.
Meanwhile the district just north of Bangor added towns including Alton and Springfield while losing Millinocket. It still includes Old Town and Orono and will likely remain in Democratic hands. Bangor and Hermon remain grouped together as one district, unchanged from the previous decade.
The maps and descriptions available Monday were not detailed enough to make it clear how the commission agreed to split municipalities in southern Maine that needed to be divided between districts, including Westbrook and Portland.
Assuming it is approved by the Legislature later this week, the agreement Monday prevents a scenario where the Maine Supreme Judicial Court would have to decide on maps. Under Maine law, the decision goes to the court if the Legislature cannot agree on any set of maps.
Commission members also voted Monday to make small changes to the unified House proposal the group had approved last week, swapping the towns of Islesboro and Belmont in order to keep Islesboro in the same district as Lincolnville, from where it is accessible by ferry, along with the towns of Sullivan and Cherryfield to keep Sullivan in a district with other coastal Hancock County towns.