AUGUSTA, Maine — There are ample ways for Maine’s apportionment commission to draw new congressional districts as members meet for the first time on Wednesday with needed census data in hand, although the political ramifications are likely to be relatively small.
Maine’s population growth over the past decade was largely concentrated in the southern portion of the state, according to U.S. Census data released last week, a shift that will require the state’s independent redistricting commission to move roughly 23,000 people currently living in the 1st Congressional District to the 2nd District as well as make significant changes to legislative maps.
The swing will affect the makeup of the congressional districts. Maine’s 1st District, represented by Rep. Chellie Pingree, leans solidly toward Democrats, while the 2nd District is a swing district that Democratic Rep. Jared Golden and former President Donald Trump split last year.
But partisans cannot simply redraw maps to their advantage in Maine. Under the state Constitution, electoral districts must be contiguous, compact and cross as few political divisions as possible. New maps must also be approved by a two-thirds vote in the state Legislature.
Following guidance from the past two redistricting processes, the commission is likely to avoid major changes to either district and simply adjust the boundaries within Kennebec County, the only one split between the two districts. But there are still thousands of ways that the county’s more than two dozen municipalities could be rearranged.
There is a clearer path for marginal Democratic gains in the 2nd District, but there are more creative ways to shift it slightly toward Republicans. The end result seems unlikely to swing a congressional election unless it is close. Here are three options that lawmakers could consider.
A Democratic-leaning map
A map favorable to Democrats would move Farmingdale, Hallowell, Manchester, Pittston, Readfield, Waterville and Winthrop — all of which went for Biden last year with the exception of Pittston — to the 2nd District, while Belgrade, Benton, Randolph and Sidney — all Republican-leaning towns — would move to the 1st District. Under this scenario, the population differential between the two districts is 115.
This is unlikely to happen because Republicans would likely object to putting Hallowell and Waterville, the two most Democratic-leaning cities in Kennebec County, in the 2nd District. The effect on its partisan lean would still be relatively marginal, however.
If the 2020 presidential election had played out under that map, President Joe Biden would have picked up just shy of 4,000 more votes in the 2nd District on net. But Biden lost the district to former President Donald Trump by nearly 28,000 votes last year. It could be more competitive than that in the future — Golden defeated then-Rep. Bruce Poliquin by 3,500 votes in 2018 — but redistricting would only change the outcome of a very close race.
A Republican-leaning map
On the flip side, Republicans could try to draw maps aimed to shore up votes in the 2nd District, although that is more difficult because there are fewer Republican-leaning towns in Kennebec County to move over.
Such a map would move Chelsea, China, Pittston, Readfield, Vassalboro, Windsor and Winslow — all of which favor Republicans with the exception of Readfield — to the 2nd Congressional District, while Sidney would move to the 1st District. Under this scenario, the population differential between the two districts is 163.
This map might be more likely to face a court challenge — it barely maintains contiguity because the city of Augusta only scrapes the Whitefield border in Lincoln County and it is arguably not “compact” as required by law. The gains for Republicans in the swing 2nd District would also be marginal. If the 2020 presidential election had played out under that map, Trump would have picked up only about 1,200 extra votes on net.
A middle-of-the-road map
There are also maps that would yield middle-of-the-road outcomes. One such scenario involves moving Chelsea, China, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Readfield, Winslow and Winthrop to the 2nd District, while only Randolph and Sidney would move to the 1st District. That would make for a population differential between the two districts of just five people.
Under the new map, Biden would have picked up about 1,200 more votes in the 2nd District, a slight improvement but still far less than he would have gained under the Democratic-leaning map. This map is about as good of a compromise as we could draw while staying within Kennebec County’s borders.