|Iowa’s Political Lineup|
On June 22, 2001, Iowa became one of the first states in the nation to have enacted both a state legislative redistricting plan and a congressional redistricting plan. On June 19, 2001, House File 758, the bill embodying the second proposed redistricting plan submitted by the Legislative Service Bureau, passed the Iowa House of Representatives on a vote of 78-18, and passed the Iowa Senate on a vote of 37-13. Governor Tom Vilsack signed the bill into law on June 22, 2001.
Who’s in Charge of Redistricting?
The legislature has the final responsibility for enacting both congressional and state legislative district plans, but the nonpartisan Legislative Services Bureau has initial responsibility. It must develop up to three plans that can be accepted or rejected by the legislature. The plans are criteria-driven, meaning that the bureau draws districts based on clear, measurable criteria.
The four criteria, in descending order of importance are: 1) population equality; 2) contiguity; 3) unity of counties and cities (maintaining county lines and “nesting” house districts within senate districts and senate districts within congressional districts); and 4) compactness. A five-member commission consisting of four civilian members chosen by each caucus in the legislature, and a fifth chairperson chosen by the commission, is responsible for advising the bureau, but only upon their request. If the legislature does not approve the first three plans by the bureau, it must itself approve a plan by September 1st, or the state supreme court will take responsibility for the state districts. The Governor has veto power over both plans.
The redistricting process in Iowa is uniquely nonpartisan, at least for the first three proposed plans by the Legislative Services Bureau. The legislature has been quick to accept the LSB’s plans even when they have placed incumbent state legislative leaders and congressional members in very competitive districts. The Democratic-controlled legislature approved a non-partisan plan in 1991 that left it vulnerable to competition; the Republicans now control both houses and four of five House seats.
The fact that the governor is a Democrat makes it more likely that the Republican-controlled legislature will accept one of the Legislative Services Bureau plans. The legislature did reject the first plan developed by the commission for congressional districts, but accepted the second plan even though it also will force some current Republican incumbents to run in new districts
Three public hearings are required to be held on the first proposed plan from the Legislative Services Bureau. Paper maps are also available from Legislative Services. In addition, the General Assembly has redistricting plans and information online.
The Des Moines Register has posted some very detailed maps on their website showing Iowa's new districts.
An organization called Iowans Against Gerrymandering filed suit in 1992 against the Iowa Legislative Council for access to the state's geographical, political, and population databases. The court rejected the claim based on the commercial vendor's trade secret interests in the unique way that the three sets of data are overlayed and interrelated. The court also noted that all three types of data are readily available via public sources.
The Iowa method of redistricting has not been significantly changed since 1980, but the 1980 reform bears mention, given that many reformers applaud Iowa’s districting model. The legislature significantly reformed its legislative and congressional redistricting process after a court challenge in the 1970’s resulted in the state Supreme Court redrawing malapportioned legislative district lines. The provisions in chapter 42 of the Iowa code detail a complete statutory process for the nonpartisan development of redistricting plans.
The centerpiece of the redistricting provisions are the redistricting principles which specifically forbid the use of political affiliation, previous election results, the addresses of incumbents, or any demographic information other than population. See “who’s in charge of redistricting” for more information.