Iowa Republicans have rejected a set of proposed political boundaries, prolonging an already delayed process and raising the tenor on what could become a divisive partisan fight over the state’s redistricting efforts.
The Iowa Senate voted 32-18 Tuesday to reject the proposed maps, which would have established new congressional and legislative districts for the next decade that reflect shifts in Iowa’s population.
“There are clear indications that plan one can be improved by a second iteration addressing compactness and population deviation,” said the bill’s floor manager, Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport.
The defeat came over the protest of Democrats, who argued the first maps were fair and removed partisan influence from the process.
“The maps before us satisfy the Iowa law and the Iowa Constitution,” said Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque. “To those Republican in this room who may have some concerns: This map is fair. It’s independent. It does not give an advantage of one party over the other. It does not. Nor should it.”
House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said in a statement the House would not take up the bill after the Senate had voted it down.
“As I have stated previously, I believe these maps to be fair maps for Iowa,” he said in the statement. “However, I don’t believe the Senate’s concerns with compactness and population deviation are unwarranted. I am hopeful that LSA will produce a map that improves upon the Senate’s concerns and meets all of the other criteria for a fair map outlined in Iowa Code.”
‘Plan one can be improved’: Iowa Senate votes down redistricting maps in special session, updates
Republicans hold majorities in the Iowa House and Senate, giving them the power to accept or reject the maps.
Smith noted that Iowa Code says reasonably compact districts “are those which are square, rectangular or hexagonal in shape and not irregularly shaped.”
“This map includes a triangle, a pyramid, a figure eight, and a district that is so irregular it looks like the 1800s salamander known for gerrymandering,” Smith said. “One House seat, House District 18, which is nested within a Senate district, is over 300 miles in perimeter. Its Senate district, Senate District 9, is 307 miles in perimeter. House District 18 would be the seventh-largest Senate district in perimeter.”
The Senate passed a resolution outlining its concerns, which will be delivered to the Legislative Services Agency, the nonpartisan body tasked with drawing the maps.
The nonpartisan agency draws the districts under Iowa’s system, which is considered a national model for reducing political influence over the redistricting process. The agency now has up to 35 days to draw a second set of maps, which it will then present to lawmakers for approval or rejection.
When it draws the maps, the agency cannot consider factors such as the number of registered voters, election results or the addresses of incumbent politicians.
What the proposed Iowa district map looked like
At the congressional level, the proposal would have transformed the competitive 1st District into a firm Democratic stronghold. Meanwhile, the 2nd District would have become slightly more favorable to Republicans, the 3rd District would have retained an even partisan split and the 4th District would have grown more Republican.
More than 60 current state lawmakers would have been drawn into districts with another incumbent if the proposed maps were adopted.
What happens if the second map set is rejected?
If the second set of maps is rejected, the agency will then draft a third set. Unlike the first two maps, lawmakers are allowed to offer amendments to the third proposal, which could open the door to Republicans making changes to boost themselves politically.
Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, has warned Republicans may plan to gerrymander Iowa’s districts if they reject the first map.
“If Republicans vote down the first map, that is a clear signal that they are planning to gerrymander Iowa legislative districts to keep themselves in power,” he said last week.
Republicans have rejected allegations that they plan to gerrymander Iowa’s maps, noting that Iowa Code specifically outlines a process they intend to follow.
“Going to a second map is not unprecedented and we are still following Iowa’s gold standard redistricting process,” Grassley said in the statement. “We have worked to maintain the integrity of redistricting process in Iowa and will continue to do so.”
The Legislature approved the first set of maps in 1991 and 2011, and it approved the second set of maps in 2001. Lawmakers have gone to a third set only once, in 1981, and lawmakers did not offer any amendments or changes to that plan.
Iowa Legislature’s redistricting deadline is Dec. 1
The Legislature is under a deadline that could make it difficult to get to a third map even if they wanted to. The Iowa Supreme Court has said lawmakers have until Dec. 1 to complete their work.
Iowa’s redistricting process has been drawn out for months due to delays in the 2020 census caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The once-a-decade process, which would normally be completed in the spring, was pushed to the fall due to the U.S. Census Bureau’s delay in providing states new population counts.
The delay caused the state to miss Iowa’s constitutional deadline to complete the process of drawing new legislative districts. Iowa’s Constitution says that if the Legislature cannot enact a law outlining new districts by Sept. 15, the Supreme Court will step in and “cause the state to be apportioned” into new districts. Chief Justice Susan Christensen issued an order last month extending lawmakers’ deadline to Dec. 1.
In the two years the process has moved beyond the first map, 1981 and 2011, it has taken the agency between 30 and 34 days to deliver each new set of maps. They are required to do it within 35 days.
After the first map was rejected in 1981, it took the agency 34 days to deliver a second plan. That plan was also rejected, and it took nonpartisan staff another 30 days to draft a third plan.
In 2001, it took the agency 30 days to draft a second plan after the first was rejected. Lawmakers accepted the second plan.
Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at email@example.com or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.
Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.