This week, Iowa legislators get another chance to uphold the state’s non-partisan redistricting process. We urge them to do so.
Last Thursday, the Legislative Services Agency offered a second set of congressional and legislative maps for state lawmakers to consider, just two weeks after Republicans in the Senate rejected the first proposal.
At first glance, the standard measurements used to figure whether districts are equal in population and regularly drawn aren’t that much different in the second set of maps than the first. There were very slight improvements to population equality and partial advances in the shape of some districts. But there also were some sacrifices. The distance around the congressional and state House districts grew in mileage, but those changes were quite small.
The truth is, it’s difficult to balance the competing interests in drawing political boundaries, which has to be done every 10 years; when you gain in one area you tend to lose in another. As lines are adjusted to lessen the differences in population among districts, that tends to change their shapes. When shapes are changed to make them more uniform, it can affect population differences.
The results are important, but what is most notable in this state is the process that’s used to draw these maps. In Iowa, political considerations are mostly ignored; instead the process requires assigning a neutral mapmaker, limiting population differences, striving for regularly drawn shapes and trying to keep city and county boundaries intact, among other requirements.
A few weeks ago, we urged state legislators to approve the first set of maps. The standard measurements for quality weren’t much different than in previous rounds of redistricting.
There was a political imbalance to the maps; they did place roughly 60 lawmakers in the same districts with their colleagues, and Republicans were more affected than Democrats. That was the luck of the draw.
When the maps were released, a number of political analysts predicted they would go down the tubes, and they did.
As of Friday, we had not seen an analysis that showed how many legislators in each of the two parties were thrown together in the new set of maps. But, overall, there are roughly 60 in districts with other incumbents, about the same as it was in the first set.
The newly proposed congressional map does eliminate the strong Democratic-lean to the 1st District, which in the first map put Scott, Linn and Johnson counties together.
It also maintains the 4th district in western Iowa, which has been in Republican hands for years, but the other districts could be considered tossups.
That may seem to be an unfair change to some, but again: Luck of the draw.
It’s true these maps have somewhat irregular shapes, just as the first set of maps did. There is a triangle in western Iowa; in central Iowa, another district looks like a box with a monster’s head jutting out; one Senate district in the Quad-City area encompasses a piece of east Davenport but then runs westward to West Branch.
That shouldn’t be shocking, though. No map will contain uniform squares and rectangles. The current map doesn’t.
The danger here is, if a second map is rejected, that will open the door to allowing politicians themselves to amend the boundaries. They can’t do that with the first two sets of maps; they must be voted up or down as a whole.
This is what happens across the country, as Republicans and Democrats in control of their Statehouses craft maps with an eye to maximizing political advantage. We don’t want to see that happen in Iowa.
There’s a surefire way to avoid this temptation and ensure the state’s redistricting process continues into the future. Republicans and Democrats should unite this Thursday when they meet in special session and approve these maps.