AUGUSTA (AP) – The Maine supreme court made its final rulings on the decennial redrawing of state electoral districts Wednesday, modifying its plan for altering the two congressional districts by focusing changes on Kennebec County and leaving the coast alone.

The law court also limited the number of potentially paired state Senate incumbents to two – Republican Paul Davis of Sangerville and Democrat Stephen Stanley of Medway – and rejected challenges to a state House of Representatives remapping that had been approved by the full Legislature.

Apportionment experts on both sides said they were satisfied with the outcome.

The court’s state Senate and congressional district reapportionments, made necessary when major party negotiators failed to agree, left Democrats “very happy,” said Phil Merrill, a Democratic strategist.

“We think the court did an excellent job,” said Republican strategist David Emery, specifically addressing the state Senate mapping.

Emery suggested that the final drawing of new congressional district boundaries created little political change.

Democrats currently hold both of Maine’s congressional seats as well as majorities in the state Senate, 18-17, and state House of Representatives, 80-67, with one Green Independent and three unenrolled in any party.

States are required to redistrict every 10 years to reflect population changes in the most recent federal census. The 2000 census showed that populations dwindled in northern Maine during the 1990s.

Originally, the law court had proposed restoring roughly equal population in the two congressional districts by moving coastal Knox County from the 1st to the 2nd District.

In Wednesday’s final order, the justices cited the already sprawling size of the northern congressional district as a reason for forgoing that change.

“It was represented to the court that District Two is the largest congressional district east of the Mississippi River and that the court’s proposal would significantly increase its size and create an additional travel burden on the representative from the 2nd District.

“To the extent that the court can avoid adding a substantial geographic increase and burden on travel, we must attempt to do so,” the justices wrote.

As part of the court’s reconfiguration of congressional districts, moving from the First to the Second District will be Oakland, Waterville, Winslow, Benton and Clinton, according to Emery.

Litchfield and Fayette also move to the 2nd District, while moving to the 1st District will be Monmouth, Unity Township, Albion and China, Emery said.

Meanwhile, the court agreed to alter its proposed plan for dividing state Senate district boundaries within Portland, the state’s only municipality that is larger in population than a single district.

In moving from a north-south to east-west split within the city, the court also separated into different districts two Democratic incumbents, Michael Brennan and Ethan Strimling, analysts said.

In the wake of a partisan divide at the State House 10 years ago, the court did the state’s redistricting. But 10 years before that, lawmakers reshaped district boundaries themselves.

This year, state lawmakers approved remapping for the 151 districts of the state House of Representatives and for the districts of county commissioners, but failed to reach accord on the two other tasks.

The House reapportionment potentially matches four pairs of incumbents in new districts in northern Aroostook County, the areas around Ashland and Skowhegan and in Portland.

The population of a House district approximates 8,400. Maine’s total population is around 1.3 million.

“Our authority is limited to determining whether or not the Legislature’s plan for the House of Representatives comports with constitutional requirements,” the justices wrote.

“We conclude that the House plan complies with constitutional and statutory mandates even though the plan may not have satisfied all constituencies.”

Before the state’s 15-member apportionment commission concluded its work in early April, neutral chairman Donald Zillman sided with the Democrats on their congressional district proposal but abstained from expressing a preference on competing state Senate plans, saying he found merit in both.

Democrat Michael Michaud currently represents the 2nd District in Congress. Democrat Tom Allen represents the 1st District.

Both of the state’s U.S. senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, are Republicans, while the governor, former congressman John Baldacci, is a Democrat.

AP-ES-07-02-03 1427EDT

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