Republican lawmakers vote down first redistricting proposal

By: - October 5, 2021 12:56 pm

Lawmakers convened on Oct. 5 to consider a new set of legislative maps. (Maps courtesy of Iowa LSA, Capitol photo by Perry Beeman)

Republican lawmakers have voted down Iowa’s first redistricting proposal, sending the process back to a nonpartisan state agency to start from scratch.

The first set of proposed maps failed in the Senate on Tuesday by a party line vote of 18-32. Republicans said several of the proposed legislative districts could be more compact and the population could be more evenly balanced. 

“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,” said Sen. Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, who led debate on the proposal.

Democrats criticized Republicans for voting against the first proposal, arguing that the first set of maps was fairly-drawn and Republicans did not have adequate reason to reject it. In Iowa, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency is responsible for creating redistricting proposals. The LSA prioritizes creating a population balance between the districts, keeping the districts geographically compact and working alongside city and county boundaries.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls said the map “fully complied” with Iowa Code, despite the specific Republican objections.

“You can have some districts that look a little maybe unusual, but that’s a result of keeping compactness for the towns and counties around larger urban areas,” said Wahls, D-Coralville. “We’ve always had maps that have had that phenomenon.”

The LSA now has 35 days to create a new proposal. Lawmakers will need to convene again to consider those maps, but a date for that session has not been set.

If lawmakers vote down the maps again, the LSA will present a third and final option. Partisan legislators will be allowed to directly edit that third map if they do not approve it, a power they do not have for the first two proposals.

Democrats raised concerns that Republicans would amend the third map in order to secure political power in the state. In floor debate Tuesday, Sen. Tony Bisignano urged lawmakers not to “put all their marbles” in second plan, and he warned them of the dangers of the third plan.

“This is extremely complicated, and if we don’t look at the end game of this, we’re going to get trapped in a scenario that’s going to make Iowa look like some of the worst gerrymandered states in the United States,” Bisignano, D-Des Moines, said.

Wahls concurred in a call with reporters after the vote.

“We are very concerned that today’s rejection of the first plan is a signal that Republicans intend to move towards a third map where amendments would be possible, and Iowa’s decades-long tradition of nonpartisan redistricting could be in grave danger,” he said.

Republican leaders emphasized that GOP lawmakers were focused exclusively on the district map requirements listed in Iowa law, not political prospects. Senate President Jake Chapman, R-Adel, declined to speculate about whether the legislature would approve a second map or move onto a third.

“I think it would be very presumptuous for me to commit to a map I’ve never seen,” Chapman said when asked if he would vote for the second map.

Wahls called on Republicans to promise not to amend the third map, if the process makes it to that point. When asked by reporters if Republicans would amend the third map, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver replied that he would not make commitments about either upcoming proposal.

“I’m not going to make any commitments on what happens in the second map. I mean, we don’t know … We’re committed to following the process,” he said.

Iowa has limited time to get a set of maps approved. The Iowa Supreme Court granted an extension to the usual process, allowing lawmakers until Dec. 1 to approve a plan and have it signed by the governor. The LSA would need to make quick work of the second and third proposals to leave enough time for lawmakers to convene and consider each plan.

Whitver said he had not heard from the LSA about whether they would deliver data earlier than 35 days from today, though he was hoping they would.

What did the first round of maps look like?

Here’s a look at the first proposed maps. After Tuesday’s vote, these are officially no longer in consideration.

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

Iowa’s proposed map for 2021 state Senate districts. (Map courtesy of Iowa LSA)

Iowa’s proposed map for 2021 state House districts. (Map courtesy of Iowa LSA)

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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.