Legislative Redistricting Process Is Front and Center

August 13, 2021 | Shaping Iowa's Leaders of Tomorrow Brad Hartkopf, Director - Public Policy, Iowa Association of Business and Industry,

The Iowa Legislature will be back for a special session this fall as lawmakers must take on the task of drawing new maps for legislative districts of the Iowa House, Iowa Senate and Congressional Districts. The process, known as redistricting, must occur every ten years. Lawmakers typically handle this decennial task during the regular legislative session in the spring, but were unable to do so earlier this year due to a delay in receiving census data from the federal government because of the pandemic.

Each state is free to develop a unique process to redraw their respective districts. Some use a partisan gerrymandering process where some districts can look like they’ve essentially been scribbled together. This is done to maximize the number of voters of a particular party in a district. Both Republicans and Democrats take advantage of this in states where the practice is permitted.

Iowa’s nonpartisan process is seen as a model for the nation in ensuring fairness and integrity for both major parties as they look to win seats. The Legislative Services Agency, a nonpartisan government agency, will utilize population data collected in the recent census and attempt to draw maps that are as compact as possible while attempting to respect city and county boundaries.

The Legislature will then receive that proposal, review it and decide whether or not to approve the maps. If they reject the first round, LSA will repeat the process and deliver a second proposal. If the Legislature declines to approve, a third round of maps is created by LSA. During that third round, lawmakers can then amend said maps. This has never occurred and is unlikely to happen this time around. The Legislature must approve the maps by September 1 and Governor Reynolds must sign off on them by September 15 according to the Iowa Constitution. If that doesn’t occur, the Iowa Supreme Court steps in and draws the maps.

The new maps will mean sitting legislators who live in close proximity to one another could be merged into the same new district and forced to square off against one another. Same-party candidates would meet in a primary and crossparty candidates in the general election. If the past is a guide, incumbents may decide to retire or relocate because their new district is more challenging to win, or two strong incumbents would be forced into a face-off.

The Legislature may also consider other business outside of redistricting when a special session is convened for that purpose which means ABI’s public policy team will be back at the Capitol when the Legislature is in session. Stay tuned for more updates on this and other pertinent policy information in ABI’s weekly newsletter.