Iowa redistricting: Everything you need to know as the process begins

By: - September 14, 2021 4:32 pm

The American flag and the Iowa flag fly on the grounds near the State Capitol in Des Moines. (Photo by Katie Akin/ Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The 2020 redistricting process has been abnormal from the start, and we’re just getting to the good stuff. This week, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency will propose a new set of state legislative and congressional maps, setting off Iowa’s redistricting process months after it would usually happen.

Here’s everything you need to know about how redistricting works in the state, what the new deadlines are and how you can participate in the process.

Why is redistricting so behind schedule?

Census data was delayed in 2020 due to COVID-19. The U.S. Census collects data once every 10 years and would usually deliver that information to states in the spring. This year, the Census released data to states in August.

That presented an issue for Iowa’s redistricting process, which is meant to be finished by mid-September. Usually, Sept. 15 — this Wednesday — would be the final day for lawmakers and Gov. Kim Reynolds to approve new legislative maps. 

What is the new deadline for redistricting?

Iowa’s constitution says the Iowa Supreme Court takes over the process if the governor and lawmakers miss the Sept. 15 deadline. The court released a statement in April that stayed vague about what would happen if the deadline passed, leading to speculation that the process could look different than before.

But the Iowa Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will extend the deadline until Dec. 1

So the process will go on as it has in past decades — just during colder weather.

When do proposed maps come out?

Soon! The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency has promised to release the first set of maps Thursday. 

To draw new districts, LSA staff use a certain set of guidelines. They do not consider any demographic information other than population growth or decay. When possible, cities and counties should not be subdivided between districts.

Finally, the Iowa Constitution requires districts to be “of compact and contiguous territory.” That means districts should be kept roughly uniform in shape and must be touching other districts, preventing any districts drawn to isolate just one city or demographic group.

The first draft of the maps will start the ball rolling on the rest of the redistricting process. 

How can Iowans weigh in?

Iowa’s redistricting process has a built-in period for feedback. The Temporary Redistricting Advisory Committee will hold three virtual meetings for people across Iowa to comment on the proposed maps. 

Those meetings will be next week:

  • Sept. 20 at 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 21 at 12 p.m.
  • Sept. 22 at 6 p.m.

A Zoom link and information on submitting written comments will be posted to the Legislative Services Agency website later this week.

After those meetings, the LSA will compile feedback and present it to lawmakers during the special session.

When does the special session on redistricting start?

Reynolds announced Tuesday that the special session will begin Oct. 5.

Lawmakers will reconvene in Des Moines to consider and vote on the proposed maps. If they have issues with the first proposal, lawmakers can vote against the maps and ask the Legislative Services Agency to redraw them. Lawmakers can do the same for a second set of maps, again drawn by the LSA.

If lawmakers reject the second set of maps, then they can directly adjust the third and final proposal.

What happens after lawmakers agree on new maps?

After the House and Senate come to an agreement on new district boundaries, the governor needs to approve them. Reynolds has until Dec. 1 to sign the maps into law.

Why does any of this matter?

Iowa’s redistricting process is historically more fair than in many states. The nonpartisan process prevents the kind of gerrymandering some states employ to keep a certain party in power, despite demographic shifts.

But even little changes can make differences in the state and across the country. While Republicans kept a firm hold on state offices in 2020, district changes could pit certain lawmakers against each other, or encourage others into an early retirement.

Redistricting could also affect the national political situation. Democrats hold just a 10-vote majority in the U.S. House. In Iowa, one seat is currently held by a Democrat — U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne in the 3rd District. Minor map changes in Iowa and other states could shake up House races in 2022.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.