City ready to shuffle city voting districts - A committee proposal would reduce the number of polling places in Portland and affect about 21,000 Portland voters

Portland Press Herald (ME) - Thursday, December 25, 2003
Author: KELLEY BOUCHARD Staff Writer

A proposal to reconfigure Portland's City Council districts and reduce its polling precincts would affect about 21,000 voters. 

The redistricting effort alone means about 16,000 registered voters in districts 3, 4 and 5 would become part of other districts and be represented by other councilors. That's one-third of the 49,343 registered voters in Maine's most populated city. 

Municipalities are required to redistrict every 10 years in response to population shifts that show up in the federal census. The city is set to redraw its council districts based on the 2000 Census and following the recent protracted redistricting of Maine's legislative districts. 

The redistricting committee has been working since July to redraw the council districts in a way that would minimize the impact on voters. The committee is expected to present the best of 12 possible plans at a City Council workshop on Jan. 12, followed by a public hearing before the full council on Feb. 18, said City Clerk Linda Cohen. 

Cohen said the redistricting must be completed 90 days before the June 8 primary election. Cohen plans to send informational letters to all 21,000 registered voters who would be affected. 

Cohen and the redistricting committee have collaborated with public works employees familiar with global information systems. The system was used to remap the city and develop various redistricting scenarios that account for the population in each neighborhood. 

"They are whizzes with the maps," Cohen said. "I wouldn't have wanted to be involved with this if they weren't helping us." 

Under state law, Cohen said, the population of the city's most populous district can be no more than 10 percent larger than its least populous district. Redistricting was needed, she said, because the population in District 5 was about 18 percent larger than the population in District 1. 

As a result, Cohen said, the redistricting committee is considering a proposal that would move Sagamore Village, Longfellow Woods and the Barron Center neighborhood from District 5 to District 3. 

A section of District 3, located near the University of Southern Maine and bordered by Brighton Avenue, Deering Avenue, Dartmouth Street, Forest Avenue and Interstate 295, would become part of District 2, which includes the West End. 

Another section of District 3, near Hannaford Supermarket on Back Cove and bordered by Forest Avenue, Baxter Boulevard and Dartmouth Street, would become part of District 1, which includes Munjoy Hill and the islands. 

And a small part of District 4, including Higgins, Orkney, Tremont, Concord and Pleasant streets, would become part of District 5 and reunite the neighborhood with Deering Center. 

Councilor James Cohen, chairman of the redistricting committee, said his committee also plans to reduce the number of polling places in the city as part of a budget-cutting measure approved by the council earlier this year. The effort would require the committee to reduce the number of precincts in some districts. 

He also noted that the redistricting committee would make sure each precinct includes no more than two legislative districts, so voting officials would have to handle no more than six ballots - two for each party - during statewide elections. 

The redistricting committee has yet to determine exactly how polling places would be reconfigured. 

He said the redistricting proposal also would leave room to grow in District 1, where anticipated residential development in the Bayside neighborhood is expected to boost population in the coming years. 

In the end, he said, some voters may be happy with the changes, especially if their polling place is more convenient or they have been unhappy with their council representative. Others may be upset about switching councilors or polling places. He has heard no negative feedback from his constituents in District 5 since notifying them of the pending changes at a neighborhood meeting and by e-mail. 

"Overall, there will be some minor disruptions," James Cohen said. "But I think the voters will rapidly adjust to the changes and they will see some benefit to the changes."