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State Electoral District Decisions Will Likely Be Delayed Due To Pandemic

Virus Outbreak Courts
Brennan Linsley/AP
A gavel sits on a desk inside the Court of Appeals at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center in Denver. The coronavirus pandemic has crippled the U.S. legal system, creating constitutional dilemmas as the accused miss their days in court. Judges from California to Maine have postponed trials and nearly all in-person hearings to keep crowds from packing courthouses.

Because the pandemic has delayed the release of detailed census data, a Maine commission that’s charged with apportioning all of the electoral districts in the state will likely not meet its deadlines. And that’s created a constitutional crisis that the panel has asked the Maine Supreme Court to help resolve.

Maine voters adopted a state constitutional amendment in 2011 spelling out deadlines with specific dates for apportioning all the electoral districts in the state. Apportionments are decided using federal census population figures, which will not be made available to the commission until mid-August. And that's a problem Assistant Attorney General John Bolton told the panel at its first meeting Thursday.

“Assuming Augusta 16 is when we get the data, nobody is going to be able to meet their deadline. This commission won’t. The legislature won’t and the court won’t," Bolton said.

The constitution requires the commission make its recommendation to the legislature, which must approve the plan by a two-thirds margin, or the matter goes to the law court. The petition seeking guidance from the court was filed earlier this week. It is an unusual filing and if not resolved could throw the whole process of deciding electoral districts for the next election up in the air. The court is seeking comments on the matter by June 22.

“Our schedule as a commission theoretically has a deadline next week," said retired Supreme Court Justice Donald Alexander, the chair of the commission. "If we don’t get that extended or have some hope of having it extended pretty soon, our commission gets done pretty quick.”

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.