In Maine, congressional and state legislative districts are drawn by the state legislature, and the process is aided by a 15-member advisory commission. If the legislature does not pass a plan, responsibility falls to the state Supreme Court. In 2021, with the delay of Census Bureau data, the state legislature had a shortened 45-day window to draw new maps. The Maine coalition, led by Maine Voices (MV) and the League of Women Voters of Maine (LWV-ME), expressed that this short timeline did not allow enough time for public feedback. People had very little time to review maps before they were passed into law. The LWV-ME ended up doing all of the public outreach communications because the state and commission appeared to have had no interest in, or ability to, lead this work.
Community of Interest Story
The coalition did not engage in any statewide COI mapping because the state of Maine has such little diversity that there are no opportunities to draw majority-minority districts. From one coalition member, “In Maine, there is a sense that redistricting is not a contentious issue since it’s approved by a bipartisan committee and therefore gets less public participation and media attention.” In Maine, it takes intentional thinking about how to incorporate fair representation into how districts are being drawn. The legal requirements for communities of interest in Maine are also unclear, which made it hard for communities to engage during the short timeline. Overall, the redistricting coalition did not feel that the commission took COI maps very seriously.
Overall State Grade: B
Advocates felt that although the 2021 redistricting process had many challenges and transparency issues, it was still much fairer and more accessible than in many other states.
Lack of transparency: Organizations in the state expressed that throughout the redistricting process, there was minimal transparency for the public. A member of the Maine redistricting coalition expressed that “the commission appeared to keep most of the mapping done in private to keep things collegiate among legislative staff.” The public comment period was late in the process, which meant that any substantive feedback was difficult to incorporate. One organization (LWV-ME) indicated that although transparency could be improved for 2031, the current redistricting procedures include safeguards that ensured the maps were still moderately fair.
Lack of accessible mapping software: The state also did not provide accessible mapping software. To address this barrier, LWV-ME created copies of the proposed district maps that people could actually comment on through Dave’s Redistricting App.
Lack of institutional knowledge within organizations: Within the Maine redistricting coalition, only a handful of people had prior experience with the state’s redistricting process and advocacy. This was compounded by the lack of data and mapping expertise across organizations and the legislative commission.
Condensed timeline after 2020 census data release: The 2020 census apportionment data delay significantly impacted Maine. The state ended up having one of the shortest redistricting periods in the country – just 45 days, which did not leave sufficient time for advocacy and education.
- Public pressure can work: Throughout the redistricting process, LWV-ME advocated for stronger public access and transparency and achieved significant gains from advocacy work. The commission did not initially have an option for the public to contact members until advocacy from the LWV-ME resulted in the posting of an email address to receive public comments on the webpage. Halfway through the redistricting process, the coalition posted an op-ed to highlight that there had not been any scheduled hearings. Within days of that op-ed, the commission published several virtual hearing opportunities for community input. In another example, the state House tried to pass maps during an initial review meeting. The LWV-ME testified to encourage giving more time for the public to weigh in on proposed maps, and this resulted in a vote to extend and allow one public comment hearing before passing the maps. The LWV-ME also used press releases to “call out” the state House and Senate commission for their lack of public transparency.
- National organizations have a support role to play: The Redistricting Data Hub (RDH) provided great data to the state and served as a model for how a national group could provide real, tangible support to local organizations. The data and analysis through RDH were valuable and could be used throughout the decade for other advocacy purposes.
- Coalitions need to be strengthened: Advocates indicated that the state had a very small coalition with many organizations new to the topic of redistricting. Will Hayward, from the LWV-ME, noted that “partners expressed interest and attended meetings but did not have the tools necessary to take action. This was a new topic for the coalition that we should spend more time expanding before 2031.” Some coalition calls started in early 2021 but did not continue.
- Timeline changes should be anticipated and the process must start earlier: The Maine Voices staff noted that with the Census Bureau data delays, the state had 45 days to complete the redistricting process and approve maps. As mentioned above, this ended up being one of the shortest timelines of any state. Because there were no statutory requirements for public hearings, they often happened very late and provided minimal ways for the community to provide input. Further, the poor statewide census completion rates had a large impact on what was possible during redistricting. According to Lydia-Rose Kesich of Maine Voices, “community organizing around redistricting needs to start earlier and engage a wider variety of stakeholders initially around the 2030 census.” Organizers also indicated that areas of the state may have been able to create a Black majority district if the census response had been stronger in 2020; the coalition is planning to engage more around the 2030 census to combat this issue in the future.