100 YEARS

Redistricting in Maine

We recently hosted a webinar that discussed redistrictering in Maine and updates to the 2020 Census. You can check it out here! 

This webinar was inspired by the film Slay the Dragon. We've partnered with Portland Museum of Art to encourage people to check out a viewing of the film. You can stream it anytime from your couch. Check it out here.

 


Maine has an advisory commission help draw congressional and legislative boundaries. The 15-member commission consists of: two commissioners chosen by the majority leader of the Maine State Senate and two by the minority leader, three commissioners chosen by the majority leader of the Maine House of Representatives and three chosen by the minority leader, one member selected by the chairs of each of the two major political parties (effectively, the Democratic chair chooses one and the Republican chair chooses one), one public commissioner selected by each side’s commissioners (one chosen by the six Republicans and one chosen by the six Democrats), and a final “tie-breaker” commissioner chosen by the two public commissioners together.

 

 

 

The advisory commission can create maps for the legislature to approve, though the legislature is not bound to only those maps drawn by the commission. The only real requirements are that the districts be contiguous, compact, and cross as few political subdivisions as possible. The legislature must pass any map by a ⅔ majority, and the map is then subject to approval by the governor. One party could, in theory, gerrymander the state if it could hold a supermajority in the legislature, but this has not happened in either house in the last decade. If the legislature is unable to get enough support for a map, then the Maine Supreme Court will draw the maps instead. More detailed information can be found here.

 

HR 1 and HR 4

HR 1, or “For the People Act of 2019,” was the first bill taken up by the 116th Congress. This bill focuses on campaign finance reform, government ethics, and voting rights. While it passed the house in the spring of 2019, Senate leadership has refused to allow a vote in the Senate.

HR 4, or “Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019,” strengthens the famous Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was significantly weakened by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. This bill would require states with a history of voting rights violations to preclear any changes to voting that could have a discriminatory impact. This bill was passed by the house in December 2019, but it has not been approved by the Senate.

Both of these bills would significantly reduce the incidence of gerrymandering. HR 1 would require all states to have independent commissions draw boundaries using rules that will ensure reasonable districts and HR 4 would require states with a history of voting rights violations to preclear redistricting. These changes would increase the amount of competitive elections and better reflect the partisan makeup of our country.

Sec. 2401 of HR 1 describes the process for forming an independent redistricting commission. Maine’s current system is not compliant with the reforms spelled out in HR 1. One reason is that the legislature is allowed to ignore the commission’s map and draw its own. Another is that there must be a publicly available application process for people to join the commission, which Maine doesn’t have. Other incompatibilities include no disqualification for elected officials, no guaranteed representation of unaffiliated/third-party voters, insufficient rules for redistricting criteria (no rules that prevent partisanship being used to draw lines, for example), and no requirement for members of both political parties to approve any maps drawn by the commission. Changing the powers and makeup of the commission will help ensure that Mainers are fairly represented in the House of Representatives and the Maine Legislature.

HR 4 would only affect Maine if the state has repeated voting rights violations in the last 25 years as defined by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. If that were to happen, Maine would need to have its redistricting precleared by the federal Department of Justice. Currently, Maine’s strong protections of voting rights make this preclearance unnecessary.

 

Action:

The League of Women Voters is working under the People Powered Maps™ program in all fifty states to ensure that all political districts are drawn fairly. While there are five major focus areas under this program, we will be focusing on two of them here in Maine: federal legislative fixes and civic engagement and education. We will urge our representatives and senators in Congress to pass HR 1 and HR 4 and implement fair maps for the 2021 redistricting cycle. We will also work in our communities to educate our neighbors on why fair redistricting is so important. If you are interested in helping us end partisan gerrymandering, please fill out this form or email us directly at volunteer@lwvme.org