Plan keeps Waterville in Maine's 1st Congressional District while Augusta would move out

·4 min read

Sep. 24—The city of Waterville and its Democratic leaning voters will remain in Maine's more populous southern 1st Congressional District, while state capital Augusta will join the 2nd District, according to a plan approved by a bipartisan commission that is rebalancing the districts based on 2020 census data.

In a unanimous vote Friday morning, the 15-member Apportionment Commission approved the new district allignments, as well as new boundaries for the 151 districts that comprise the state House of Representatives.

The seven Democrats and seven Republicans, who are chaired by retired state Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald Alexander, had been at odds over the districts but pushed for a consensus plan that could draw the necessary two-thirds support in the state Legislature next week.

A delay in the release of census data, blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic, has put the commission on a tight timeline, compressing a process that is typically done in 18 months down to just six weeks. Early this month, the commission balked at releasing maps and has faced criticism for steamrolling the process and for not quickly and publicly releasing the competing proposals.

The panel was tasked with moving the lines in a way that evens the number of voters in each district based on Maine's meager 2.7 percent population growth over the last 10 years. They needed to move about 23,300 voters from the 1st District, which includes Portland, to the 2nd — which encompasses more than two-thirds of the state's land mass and includes the state's second- and third-largest cities, Lewiston and Bangor.

Both parties had proposed moving Augusta into the 2nd District, but Democrats initially proposed doing the same with Waterville, home of Colby College.

Republicans resisted shifting Waterville into the 2nd District because it would have made the more conservative and rural northern district more Democratic.

Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in Waterville by a nearly three-to-one margin — based on November 2020 election data, the city had 6,489 Democrats and 2,641 Republicans. The split is more even in Augusta, with Democrats holding a 1,250-voter edge.

Other municipalities shifting from the 1st District to the 2nd include: Chelsea, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Manchester, Readfield and Winthrop. Albion, Benton, Clinton, Litchfield and West Gardiner will move from the 2nd District to the 1st to balance out the number of voters.

The 2nd District seat, currently held by U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat, has bounced between Republicans and Democrats in the last decade. Republican Bruce Poliquin won the seat in 2014, after incumbent Democrat Mike Michaud retired to run unsuccessfully for governor that year. Poliquin held the seat for two terms before being defeated by Golden in 2016 in Maine's first ranked-choice congressional election.

The district also supported former President Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020, but had supported the Democratic presidential candidate in the previous six election cycles and last backed a Republican candidate in 1988.

Former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Republican, also held the district's House seat for seven consecutive terms before winning her U.S. Senate seat. Following Snowe, the seat was held by John Baldacci, a Bangor Democrat, who later served as governor.

While the Apportionment Commission has come to terms on the state House districts and the state's two U.S. congressional districts, Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over where to draw the lines for the state's 35 state Senate districts. Earlier this month, they reached consensus on the shape of county commission districts in Maine's 16 counties.

Commission members, which include state lawmakers and other representatives of both parties — as well as Alexander, who has served as neutral chairman — will continue negotiating on the Senate districts in hopes of reaching a consensus by Monday, the deadline for their final report to the full Legislature.

The Legislature will then return to a special session next Wednesday to take votes on finalizing the new voting districts. If they are unable to gain two-thirds support for any of the new maps, those portions will be settled by the state Supreme Judicial Court. The new districts will first come into play during statewide primary votes next June.

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