What do Iowans think about the proposed redistricting maps?

By: - September 22, 2021 7:56 pm

The first proposed congressional map in 2021. (Map courtesy of Iowa’s Legislative Services Agency)

Dozens of Iowans weighed in on the state’s first set of redistricted maps this week, submitting comments, speaking at public meetings – and even writing poetry about the proposal.

Overall, most residents spoke in favor of Iowa’s nonpartisan process, with only a handful of people bringing up specific concerns.

Wednesday night was the final public hearing on the maps. A five-member, bipartisan panel known as the Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission ran the virtual meeting, which lasted just over an hour.

Most participants endorsed the maps. They emphasized that lawmakers should approve the first plan because the Legislative Services Agency used a nonpartisan process to create them. Iowa’s redistricting process is notably fair compared to many other states, where political gerrymandering is common.

“It may cause some elected officials to move, retire or compete against other incumbents, but that is what our democracy is all about: competition and equal representation,” said Altoona resident MacKenzie Bills on Wednesday night.

Iowans spoke remotely to the Temporary Redistricting Commission in the final of three public meetings. (Screenshot of LSA livestream)

In the written and spoken comments, some Iowans had concerns with small details of the proposal, bringing up specific streets that they believed should be in one district over the other. Several Morningside College affiliates raised concerns that a residence hall was placed in a different district than the rest of the campus.

“If an individual who moves from one dorm across the street to another, they need to completely re-register, and they are now in different state Senate and state House districts,” said Morningside Professor Valerie Hennings, noting that some students even change dorms within the academic year.

Only a few people questioned whether the maps were fair or accurately drawn. Chad Brewbaker of the Dallas County Libertarians asked for the LSA “to show its work” behind the maps.

“Going forward, in the second map, the LSA (should) show each of its hand edits and explain them so there isn’t any color of bias in the process,” Brewbaker said.

TRAC Chair Sue Lerdal cut off Brewbaker’s comment when he began to allege financial schemes within the state government.

Iowan Steve Woodhouse asked whether it was fair for the geographic size of certain districts to differ so much. He noted that about 24 House districts were located in the Des Moines metro. Meanwhile, on the c ongressional map, Woodhouse observed that the 4th district covers a huge swath of the state’s rural counties.

“There seems to be such a huge divide between the wants and needs of rural Iowa versus that of urban, and I don’t think it’s going to be balanced enough with this map,” Woodhouse said.

Census data shows that Iowa’s metro areas grew over the last decade while rural areas lost residents. The proposed maps are based primarily on population. LSA official may not use political ideology or other demographic data to determine district lines.

The TRAC will meet tomorrow afternoon to discuss the meetings. Then, the Legislative Services Agency will summarize the public comment gathered this week and present the feedback to lawmakers when they return to the Capitol early next month.

The special session to consider redistricting will begin on Oct. 5.

Some lyrical encouragement for the maps

Ellen Johnsen presented a poem for lawmakers, urging them to support the proposed maps. Here’s a stanza of it:

“This proposed map meets each requirement,

not just the letter but the actual intent,

so vote plan number one and we can be done,

keep politics out of this and give your consent.”

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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.