CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowans are getting a look at a second redistricting plan that if approved by the Legislature will set the boundaries for the state’s congressional and legislative districts for the next decade.
The plan by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency reconfigures the four congressional districts creating three districts with a nearly equal number of counties while reducing the number of counties in the west-northwest 4th District from 44 in the first plan to 39.
The second iteration splits Linn and Johnson counties — Linn in a 22-county northeast Iowa 2nd District and Johnson County in a 20-county southeast Iowa 1st District that includes Scott County. There is no incumbent currently living in that proposed district. The 3rd District, which would comprise Polk County and Des Moines’ western suburbs, would extend to the Missouri border to include 21 counties. Both Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Rep. Cindy Axne live in the proposed 3rd.
The initial plan from LSA was rejected by majority Senate Republicans on a party-line vote Oct. 5, sending the nonpartisan agency’s legal and data analysts back to the drawing board — or mapping software — to create a second map that more closely aligned with the requirements in state law and the Iowa Constitution regarding compactness and population equality.
Lawmakers will meet again Oct. 28 to make a decision on accepting the second plan. This is not the first time legislators have rejected the first plan and one redistricting process went to a third map.
Since 1981, Iowa has used a nonpartisan redistricting process that called for the LSA to draw maps without consideration for political ramifications, such as how new district lines will affect individual lawmakers’ re-election chances or the balance of power in the Legislature.
Iowa’s process is considered a model for redistricting because it eliminates gerrymandering, a process politicians and political parties use to draw districts to their benefit.
As much as possible, districts are supposed to be square, rectangular or hexagonal so as to avoid irregular-shaped districts. The first map included a triangular district, a pyramid and one “so irregular it looks like the 1800s salamander known for gerrymandering,” according to Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, said when urging his colleague to reject that plan.
The LSA’s second effort does make some improvements on Senate Republicans’ concerns about compactness. The congressional districts have an average length-width compactness of 31.03 miles compared to 34.96 in the first map.
The population differences between the congressional districts also shrunk. There was a difference of 99 from the smallest to the largest in Plan 1, but only 38 in this proposal.
However, the decision to accept or reject the plan will be made by 100 representatives and 50 senators who likely will be looking at their districts. Although the map-drawing process is nonpartisan, Republicans, who control the Senate 32-18 and have a 60-40 advantage in the House, will be looking to hold their majority. Democrats, who have not controlled both chambers since redistricting in 2011, are hoping for a map that has more competitive districts, especially in rural areas where there are few Democratic legislators.
Democrats blasted the GOP for rejecting the first map, with Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, suggesting that Republicans were taking “a big step closer to rigging elections.”
Republicans repeatedly said they will follow the redistricting process proscribed by law.