Proposals would shift Augusta, and maybe Waterville, to 2nd Congressional District

·6 min read

Sep. 16—Voters in Maine's capital city of Augusta will likely be switching from the state's 1st U.S. Congressional District to its 2nd under a pair proposals by Republicans and Democrats on a special Legislative commission tasked with redrawing the districts based on the 2020 U.S. Census.

But the parties are in disagreement over whether Waterville, the second largest city in Kennebec County, should also be moved to the 2nd Congressional District. Democrats want it shifted there while Republicans would keep it in Maine's 1st Congressional District.

Republicans and Democrats also appear to be in agreement about shifting the Democratic stronghold town of Hallowell from the 1st District to the 2nd but are in disagreement over the town of Oakland, which Republicans are proposing to move it into the 1st District and Democrats want to keep in the 2nd.

Oakland is of note because it is where former 2nd District Republican Bruce Poliquin claimed residency when he was in office and where he still maintains a post office box. Poliquin has announced he is again seeking his party's nomination in 2022 to run against U.S. Congressman Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat, who took the seat from Poliquin in 2018. Golden won reelection to the seat in 2020 by a wide margin.

The shift of Waterville's voters to the 2nd District will likely meet resistance from Republicans as it would make the more conservative and rural northern district more Democratic.

Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in the city by a nearly three-to-one margin based on data from the November 2020 elections the city had 6,489 Democrats to 2,641 Republicans. The split between the two major parties is more even in Augusta, with Democrats holding only a 1,250-voter edge.

Maps for the proposals by the Legislative Commission on Reapportionment were released late Thursday showing the competing proposals from Democrats and Republicans. The voting public in those cities and across the state will get their chance to weigh in on change during a public hearing next Monday.

The commission also released competing proposals for redrawing Maine's 35 state Senate districts lines. Both parties leave the current districts largely intact.

According to Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, the Democratic proposal would mean 67 percent of voters would keep their current state senators, should they be reelected in 2022, while only 8 percent of voters would have new representation based on the redrawn lines. The Democratic proposal also does not draw lines that would force any incumbent state senators to have to run against each other.

"Redrawing the Senate map is always challenging, but I'm proud of what the Senate Democrats have put together," Jackson said in a prepared statement.

Jackson said he was looking forward to hearing from the public on the proposal but noted Democrats were still working to negotiate a consensus map with Republicans.

Republican leaders in the Legislature did not immediately offer comment on their proposal.

Still unsettled is how the commission will redraw the lines for the state's 151 House districts. Those maps are expected to be released some time next week.

The commission now only has 10 days to consider public comment on the map before the panel, which is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, must make a final recommendation to the Legislature.

The tight deadline is in part the a result of a delay in the release of 2020 U.S. Census data. Maine's population changes are driving the effort to rebalance the districts by shifting the boundaries. The commission's changes must, among other things, shift about 23,300 voters from Maine's 1st Congressional District to the 2nd so that the two districts will once again have a near-equal number of voters.

Every 10 years, as required by the state and U.S. Constitution, lawmakers have to redraw the lines based on the latest population data. The process often involves careful negotiations as the parties jockey to gain demographic advantages at the polls.

The new U.S. Census showed Maine's population growth over the last 10 years, just 2.7 percent statewide, was largely centered in the state's already more populous 1st Congressional District, which now has 704,211 people compared with 658,148 in the 2nd District.

Earlier this month the panel balked at releasing preliminary maps to the public for comment, further tightening the timeline for negotiating an agreement between the parties that can gain the support of two-thirds of the lawmakers in both the state House and Senate, as required by the state's constitution.

The Legislature will likely be called to a special session in before Sept. 26, a deadline imposed by the state's Supreme Judicial Court for final approval of the maps. The court's ruling earlier this summer granted the commission 45 days to complete its work once it received the Census data. While the state's constitution calls for the work to be done by June 1, the panel did not have the federal data until August 16.

The commission is also tasked with redrawing county commission districts for nine of the state's 16 counties that saw shifts in population significant enough to warrant a rebalancing of voters. Much of those changes will be in southern Maine, which saw the bulk of the state's population growth since 2010.

The new boundary between the state's congressional districts have been a subject of close scrutiny and could shift more Democratic voters into the more conservative 2nd District. The focus of proposed changes appears to be confined to communities in Kennebec County — the only Maine county with towns in both districts.

The Legislature then needs to give its final approval to reapportionment before Oct. 7, allowing the secretary of state enough time to provide details on the new district boundaries to both voters and candidates well ahead of the next statewide primary elections in June 2022. But a conflict in the schedules for House and Senate staff will push an earlier vote on the matter, likely by the end of September.

The new lines will allow candidates for the Legislature and Congress to know which district they live in and whether they were eligible by residency to seek office there while also giving voters as well as state and local election officials time to learn the new lines and create appropriate ballots for the 2022 election cycle. The first statewide election that will be impacted by the shift will be statewide primaries in June, which could feature candidates for Congress, the governor's office and the Legislature.

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