Iowa lawmakers are returning to the Capitol for a special session Tuesday to accept or reject a proposed set of redrawn political boundaries.
Lawmakers can either accept the congressional and legislative maps, locking in new districts for the next decade, or they can vote the maps down and set themselves up for weeks of additional waiting as a nonpartisan agency returns to the drawing board for a second attempt.
Republicans, who hold majorities in the Iowa House and Senate, have been tight-lipped about how they’ll vote on the maps. Top legislative Democrats have said they will support the maps.
Legislators will gavel in for the special session at 10 a.m. Then the Senate State Government Committee will meet at 11 a.m. to consider a bill that would add the proposed maps to Iowa law.
Senate Republicans have said they’ll meet privately as a group on Tuesday to discuss the proposal.
The House State Government Committee is on call to meet in the afternoon, allowing the process to begin in the Senate.
Top Republicans have said any legislative action on other topics — like responding to President Joe Biden’s proposed vaccine mandate for large employers — isn’t likely to happen Tuesday.
What do the proposed Iowa district maps look like?
Iowans got their first look at the set of proposed congressional and legislative maps on Sept. 16 when the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency released its proposal to the public.
Below, you can compare Iowa’s current congressional districts, which were drawn based on population data from the 2010 census, to the proposed new districts, which were drawn based on data from the 2020 census.
The maps reflect changes in Iowa’s population over the last decade, which has declined in rural parts of the state and grown in major metro areas like Des Moines.
You can also view detailed versions of the maps, including maps of each individual district, as well as the Legislative Services Agency’s report at the Iowa Legislature’s website.
How would the new Iowa congressional districts change for Republicans, Democrats?
Data from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office shows the number of active voters registered to each political party would change under the proposed congressional districts. Republicans would gain ground on Democrats in two districts, and Democrats would gain ground in the other two.
The new proposed maps would not place any of Iowa’s current representatives into the same district. Republicans currently represent Iowa’s 1st, 2nd and 4th Congressional districts, while Democrat Cindy Axne represents Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District.
Democrats would widen their active voter advantage in the 1st Congressional District, where 38.7% of active voters would be Democrats and 28.6% would be Republicans under the new map. That’s up from 35% Democratic and 32% Republican under the current congressional map.
The advantage would flip slightly in favor of Republicans in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, which would move from 35.5% Democratic and 32.7% Republican to 35% Republican and 32.8% Democratic.
In Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, Democrats would widen a slight active voter advantage, increasing from 35.5% to 36.3% while Republicans would decrease from 34.8% to 33.9%
Republicans would retain their solid advantage in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District. Approximately 45.2% of active voters would be Republicans, up slightly from 44.2%. Democrats’ percentage would decrease from 25.6% to 24%.
All four districts would still have a large percentage of active voters not registered to a party, ranging from 28% to 32%.
Democrats previously had a slight active voter advantage in three of the Congressional districts: Iowa’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts.
The difference between the proposed congressional district with the most population (1st District – 797,655) and least population (2nd District – 797,556) is just 99 people. No proposed district deviates from the ideal population of 797,592 by more than 63 people.
How would the congressional districts change for Iowa’s currently elected lawmakers?
An analysis of the state House and Senate districts shows 64 current lawmakers would be drawn into districts with another incumbent if the proposed maps are adopted. That’s about 43% of Iowa’s 150 total legislators.
Among those who would be paired with another incumbent is House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford. The maps would place him in the same House district as Rep. Shannon Latham, R-Sheffield.
Here’s a look at which lawmakers and which districts would be affected:
How does Iowa’s redistricting process work?
Iowa’s redistricting process is widely considered a national model and has several safeguards intended to limit partisan influence over the map-drawing process.
The Iowa Constitution says districts must be both “compact” and “contiguous.” Iowa Code specifies that the compactness of a district is greatest when the length and width of the district are equal, giving it a square shape with the shortest possible perimeter.
Iowa law also says that congressional and legislative districts must coincide as much as possible with the boundaries of cities and other political subdivisions. A single county cannot be divided between two congressional districts, for example.
The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, which provides legal research, budget analysis, bill drafting and other services to the Iowa House and Senate, is tasked with drawing the maps and submitting them to the Legislature for approval.
When lawmakers convene for Tuesday’s special session, they’ll be able to consider the maps on only an up or down vote — no changes will be allowed.
If they vote the maps down, the agency has another 35 days to produce a new set of drawings. Lawmakers cannot amend the second set. If the second map fails, the agency technically has 35 days to create a third plan, which lawmakers could choose to change.
However, because the Iowa Supreme Court has instituted a new Dec. 1 deadline for final approval, it puts some time constraints on the agency and the Legislature. There are 57 total days between the start of the special session and the Dec. 1 deadline.
Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.