New “China-Vassalboro” plan brings population difference down to three, moves only seven towns

AUGUSTA – Democrats on the bipartisan panel advising the legislature on drawing new Congressional district lines submitted a compromise proposal to the independent chair of the redistricting commission today in keeping with the agreement made by both parties during the panel’s first meeting on Aug. 15.

The new Democratic proposal, the “China-Vassalboro” plan, moves Unity Township, China, Vassalboro, Rome, and Albion to the second Congressional district, while moving Oakland and Wayne into the first congressional district. The plan brings the population difference between the districts down to three people, and it moves only seven towns totaling 19,191 people. It also splits only one county, continuing the historical divide of Kennebec County.

“We worked to find a compromise based on what our Republican counterparts said was most important: the deviation of one,” said Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, who is leading the negotiations for the Democrats. “We believe our plan reflects a good faith effort to address the concerns expressed by our Republican colleagues, while still preserving our goal of making it the least disruptive to Maine people.”

Earlier in the week, Democrats proposed an even simpler plan to move Vassalboro, a total of 4,340 people, to the second Congressional district during a meeting of the panel in Augusta. Republicans on the commission presented a separate plan that displaces roughly 25 percent of the Maine’s population from one district to another. The independent chair, Michael Friedman asked both parties to present a compromise or alternative proposals by noon today.

“Our goal continues to be to present a map that is reasonable, consistent with law, and displaces as few voters as possible,” said Senator Seth Goodall, D-Richmond. “We hope the chair will see this as a step in the right direction.”

Congressional redistricting is required to be updated every 10 years based on census changes. As a result of a federal court order resulting from a lawsuit, the legislature must now consider a plan nearly two years ahead of schedule. Maine’s current Congressional districts were drawn by a 2003 Maine Supreme Court decision, and resulted in a population difference of 23 people. The population difference between the two districts has widened to 8,669 residents, according to federal census data published in March. The court ruling requires the Congressional districts to be reapportioned based on the census data.

Similar versions of the current map have been in place since 1961. They have been approved by Republicans, Democrats, and the Maine Supreme Court.

“We hope and expect our colleagues to keep their word on pursuing compromise,” said Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake. “During the past week, we’ve heard from people across the state calling for a reasonable plan. We believe we’ve presented two.”

Since 1983, Congressional reapportionment has been approved by two-thirds of the legislature, mirroring the process the Maine Constitution sets for state legislative redistricting. Maine law explicitly lays out a process for redistricting, which includes a two-thirds vote of the legislature to approve reapportionment plans. If a two-thirds vote can not be achieved, redistricting proposals are sent to the State Supreme Judicial Court for resolution.

A public hearing on the plans offered by both parties will be held on Tuesday, August 23, at 9 a.m. in room 228 of the State House. The commission must present a plan to the Legislature by August 31. The Legislature will meet on Sept. 27 to vote on the measure.

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