How will Iowa’s redistricting session work?

By: - October 5, 2021 8:44 am

As Iowa launches its second attempt at redistricting, many states are headed to court after partisan gerrymandering. (Maps courtesy of Iowa LSA)

Iowa lawmakers will convene today for a long-awaited special session on redistricting. They will vote on a set of maps prepared by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, setting the boundary lines for the next decade of Iowa politics.

Here’s what you can expect as the process gets started.

What’s the schedule for the special session?

The House and Senate will gavel in at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 5, but it could be at least a few hours before the maps come to a full-chamber vote.

Iowa’s legislative proceedings are streamed online at Reporter Katie Akin will be following along at the Capitol — you can follow her on Twitter at @katie_akin.

How are lawmakers likely to vote?

We already know that Democratic leadership is enthusiastic about the maps. In press avails and public appearances, Democrats have emphasized that the LSA used a nonpartisan process to draw the maps. Democrats say that makes the first round of maps the most fair option.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls and House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst have both announced they will vote in favor of the maps.

“These are nonpartisan maps drawn without interference from politicians or political influence. That’s why I’ll be voting to approve these maps on October 5, and why my Republican colleagues should as well,” Wahls said in a statement last week.

Republicans have been less open about their votes. On a Sept. 24 episode of Iowa Press, House Speaker Pat Grassley said he was still considering his decision and hearing from members of his caucus.

“This is a decision for 10 years. I don’t think it’s something you just rush out immediately and be like yes or no,” he said. “I think you have to make sure you really think through and take all the factors into play.”

Republicans have a majority in both the House and the Senate. Even if every Democrat votes in favor of the first set of maps, it will still be largely up to Republicans to decide whether to adopt the proposal.

What happens if lawmakers approve the maps?

If the House and Senate agree on these maps, they will send the proposal to Gov. Kim Reynolds for approval. When she signs off, the district maps become law.

What happens if lawmakers vote down the maps?

If lawmakers vote against the maps, the LSA has 35 days to draw another proposal. If they also vote against that map, then legislators will be allowed to directly adjust the maps for the third and final round.

Iowa has a little bit of wiggle room for redistricting this year, as the Iowa Supreme Court extended the normal September deadline to Dec. 1.

Why does redistricting matter?

Iowa’s redistricting process is interesting by itself. We’re one of few states who allow a nonpartisan agency to draw the new district lines, a process meant to prevent gerrymandering to keep one political party in power.

But even nonpartisan changes can make a big difference in politics. The new maps will shape Iowa’s political landscape for the next ten years, tossing many state lawmakers in opposition with one another and potentially changing the congressional balance.

Many politicians in the state are waiting for a final map to plan their next moves. Rep. Cindy Axne told reporters Monday that she’s waiting for redistricting to announce whether she will run for re-election.

“The map makes a difference because it tells me the kind of seat that this looks like and what that could be if I run and if I don’t,” Axne said. “And that’s why it’s so important to wait and see what happens.”

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Reporter Katie Akin 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.