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Iowa has released its second proposal for new political boundaries

Iowa's Legislative Services Agency released its second proposal for new congressional boundaries Thursday.
Iowa Legislative Services Agency
Iowa's Legislative Services Agency released its second proposal for new congressional boundaries Thursday.

Iowa’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency released its second proposal Thursday for new political boundaries after Republicans in the state Senate rejected the agency’s first plan.

States have to re-draw congressional and legislative districts every 10 years to reflect population shifts, and the new boundaries can significantly change Iowans’ political representation.

The congressional map released Thursday looks more similar to the current map than the first proposal did. Based on voter registration data, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts would remain politically competitive, and the 4th District would remain a Republican stronghold.

By initial counts, 58 current state lawmakers may be drawn into the same district with fellow lawmakers under the proposed maps for the Iowa Senate and House of Representatives.

The first proposal would’ve put more than 60 current lawmakers in districts with each other. When that happens, they have to decide whether to move, retire or run against a colleague who often represents the same political party.

Republican leaders have not yet said if they will vote to approve or reject the second set of political maps when lawmakers meet for another special session on Oct. 28.

Senate Republicans said they rejected the first set of maps because they wanted LSA to do a better job of balancing population deviation with the compactness of districts.

“I appreciate the work LSA has done to quickly attempt to address the concerns the Senate expressed with Plan One,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said in a statement. “Plan Two is a regular part of the process outlined in Iowa law. I look forward to reviewing the map and its adherence to the criteria established in Iowa law.”

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said House Republicans are also reviewing the new maps.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said House Democrats will vote to approve the second redistricting plan.

“The second map we received today was drawn by nonpartisan experts without partisan consideration,” Konfrst’s statement said in part. “As with the first map, I’m going to put politics aside and vote for this fair, nonpartisan map. When session convenes next week, Republican lawmakers need to stay focused on redistricting and approve this nonpartisan map.”

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said Senate Democrats will also vote to approve the maps.

Iowa law doesn’t allow the nonpartisan LSA to consider voting patterns or the addresses of current lawmakers when drawing new district boundaries. Instead, they have to ensure districts have as close to equal population as possible, draw compact districts, and keep counties and cities intact as much as possible.

When the Iowa Legislature votes on the first and second proposed redistricting plans, lawmakers can’t make changes to the maps. But if Republican lawmakers choose to reject the second plan, they will be allowed to make changes to the third proposal.

Democrats say they're concerned that GOP lawmakers will take that as an opportunity to draw districts that favor their own party. Whitver has not ruled that out. He recently said he wouldn’t make commitments related to maps he hasn’t seen yet.

The first year Iowa used this process for redistricting was 1981. The state legislature approved the third plan without amending it. In 2001, lawmakers approved the second plan. The legislature approved the first plan in 2011 and 1991.

Do the new maps address the concerns Senate Republicans said they had?

When they rejected the first redistricting plan, Senate Republicans asked LSA to submit a plan “that better balances compactness with the legally mandated population deviation.”

University of Iowa Law Professor Derek Muller said the first and second redistricting plans fulfilled legal requirements.

“LSA did a good job with the first map, and I think they probably did an even better job with the second map,” Muller said. “They’re closer in equal population. On most measures of compactness, they’re better. They split fewer counties. So I think it’s an improvement.”

Some measures of compactness are worse in the second plan than in the first plan.

“Any time you’re drawing maps, you’re dealing with multiple factors, and they’re in tension with one another,” Muller said. “And it’s really difficult when you submit a map the first time around to try to improve it on every dimension going forward the second time around.”

Republican lawmakers did not publicly discuss the political implications of the first set of proposed maps when they rejected them. They focused their comments on what they said were a few irregularly shaped districts.

“The round two maps from LSA appear to resolve some of the concerns legislators had about the first round maps,” Republican strategist Luke Martz said.

Martz also said that from a political perspective, he was “pleased to see that the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts appear to be more competitive.”

Wahls, the Senate Democratic leader, said GOP senators did not have a legitimate reason to reject the first set of maps.

“Just like the first map, this second map is fair and meets the legal and constitutional requirements,” Wahls said. “It addresses all of the purported concerns of the Republicans from the first map. Senate Democrats will vote for it, and legislative Republicans should join us in voting for fair, nonpartisan maps.”

Asked if he thinks the second plan does a better job of fulfilling legal criteria, Wahls said it was too soon to say.

How would Iowa’s congressional districts change with the second plan?

Current 1st District Congresswoman Ashley Hinson, a Republican and Linn County resident, would live in the 2nd District under this proposal. If she wins in 2022, she would still represent many of the same counties as her current district.

Incumbent 2nd District Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican and Wapello County resident, would live in the 3rd District under this proposal. The 3rd District is represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne of Polk County, who hasn’t said if she’ll run for reelection in 2022.

The proposed 1st District would include Johnson, Scott and Warren counties. The proposed 2nd District would contain Linn County. Under the first proposed plan that was rejected, Johnson, Linn and Scott counties would’ve all been in one district together, which would’ve given Iowa a district that would be very likely to vote for Democrats.

The proposed 3rd Congressional District would continue to include Polk and Dallas counties, but it would no longer cover Pottawattamie and Warren counties. It would still be a very politically competitive district.

The second redistricting plan proposes a 4th Congressional District that spans 36 of Iowa’s 99 counties. The first plan that was rejected proposed a 44-county district. The new 4th District would include the southwest corner of Iowa, which is currently part of the 3rd District. The district, currently represented by Republican Congressman Randy Feenstra, would remain a Republican stronghold.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter