While Maine’s 2020 Census numbers indicated a small, 2.6% bump in population, the numbers’ impact on the outcomes of state political reapportionment and redistricting aren’t fully known.
Even though the number of people living in Maine went up by a modest 34,000 people, where exactly those people live is not yet certain, because of a pandemic-related delay in the Census Bureau's release of a city and town breakdown. It will be released in August.
Dr. Sandy Maisel, a professor of government at Colby College, said, “I don’t think it’s going to have much of an impact” on races for Congress.
Maisel explained that Maine has a bipartisan commission responsible for redistricting that prevents the practice of political gerrymandering of districts after reapportionment.
That means, no matter how the political lines end up being drawn, the chances that they give a political party an unreasonably unfair advantage or steal seats from one party or the other are low.
“The movement tends to be in Kennebec County. It’s happened after each of the last three censuses,” Maisel, said of his expectation that towns in that area of central Maine might be flipped between one district or the other.
If that happens, Maisel does not expect either of Maine’s two Democratic members of the U.S. House, Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, to be affected.
However, it is possible that redistricting could affect who wins the swing second congressional district electoral college vote in presidential races.
“What it does to presidential candidates, we can’t tell. That depends on the candidates,” he said.
The bigger impact in Maine’s redistricting could be what happens as lines are redrawn in State House districts for the Maine Legislature. However, it is not possible for lawmakers to begin that work until the final breakdown from the census emerges in summer.
Because the Maine Constitution requires the Legislature to complete reapportionment by mid-June, Maine’s legislative leaders are now scrambling to figure out if that June deadline can pushed back by the Maine Supreme Court in order to avoid the court having to draw district lines.
“We’re kind of in a tough spot,” said Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, a Democrat, adding that he and Republicans were planning to officially ask the court “to give us an extension.”
If that happens, Jackson said, Republican and Democratic lawmakers could convene their commission over the late summer and early fall and hopefully have an agreement by “September or October.”
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According to Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, that would meet an expected November cutoff for her office so it has time to match voters in Maine’s registry to their new districts by next January, which in turn would allow candidates to file to run in 2022 primaries and elections..
“We hope the legislature and the court will come to some agreement and that the process will continue in a civil and bipartisan way, with the data ready for us to go to work in late fall,” she said.
Both Jackson and Maine Republican Senate lawmakers said they expected to meet this week about approaching the Maine Supreme Court about a reapportionment extension.