Bill in Iowa Legislature takes aim at county representation plans

The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

A bill in the Iowa Legislature could stay counties’ hands in drawing local representation maps and force a group of the state’s most urban counties to change their representation plans entirely.

Some state lawmakers say House File 2372, which passed the Iowa House last week, is meant to eliminate gerrymandering in county representation maps by giving over the process to the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, which draws districts for the Senate and House.

However, some area representatives argue the bill is another in a long list of recent attacks on local control by the Republican-led Statehouse.

The bill also would require counties with more than 60,000 residents to follow a “Plan 3” representation plan, which sees voters within a district vote for a supervisor who lives in that same district.

“Our whole goal, our intent of the bill, was to get representation and stop gerrymandering,” said Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, chairman of the House Local Government Committee. “We don’t get to draw our own maps, they shouldn’t be able to draw their own maps, either.”

However, Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids, argued the opposite, that the Republican-led House is trying to place more control over the more populous counties, which tend to lean Democrat, while leaving the smaller, more Republican counties to make their own decisions on representation.

“It’s a loss of local control,” Staed said in an email.

A redistricting commission currently is appointed to map out districts when a county redistricts or creates a representation plan. The plan must be approved by the Board of Supervisors and Iowa Secretary of State before it goes into effect.


“This bill is just another way of wresting local control from counties,” said Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry. “They really want to put the screws to the urban counties that are basically controlled by Democrats.”

But Highfill said the bill, which does not affect city councils, isn’t partisan, aiming to provide better local representation.

“It’s not party politics,” Highfill said. “We need to make sure that people have somebody they can talk to, somebody who is their neighbor.”

County boards right now have the option of three representation plans:

• Plan 1: At-large — Voters countywide choose all three supervisors. There are no districts.

• Plan 2: At-large districts — Voters countywide vote on supervisors who live within specific districts.

• Plan 3: Districts — Voters in each district vote for a supervisor who lives in that same district.

Of Iowa’s 99 counties, 44 follow full district representation, or Plan 3. Another 17 counties follow Plan 2, and 38 are at-large.


Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

Ten Iowa counties — Black Hawk, Dallas, Dubuque, Johnson, Linn, Polk, Pottawattamie, Scott, Story and Woodbury — surpass the 60,000-resident threshold.

Of those, Linn and Polk — the two most populated in the state — already follow Plan 3, according to the Iowa State Association of Counties.

Dallas and Woodbury counties follow Plan 2, and the remaining six — including Johnson — have at-large representation.

Carberry said he doesn’t have a problem with handing over redistricting to the Legislative Services Agency, but said at-large voting works in Johnson County and counties should have a say in their representation.

“If the people are not happy with their form of government, they can petition to have change,” Carberry said.

Lucas Beenken, public policy specialist with the Iowa State Association of Counties, which is opposed to the bill, also spoke of maintaining local control.

“Legislation that takes that away from the voters, and has the state dictate what supervisor plan counties would have based on their population, takes away that ability for the voters to decide,” Beenken said.

For example, Linn County voters a decade ago chose to go from at-large representation to Plan 3.

In 2016, Linn County voters decided to reduce from five supervisors to three. The next year a special election was held on the county representation plan, with voters choosing to stay with Plan 3.


“Linn County has actually become a classic example of why the voters should retain this. They should retain their ability to change their mind and always choose how they’re represented,” Beenken said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3175;



Gazette Des Moines BureauTWO BIG 'MUST DO' BILLS: Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said agreeing on a major state income tax cut/reform plan and setting the state budget for fiscal 2019 are the top issues remaining f ...

DES MOINES - An effort to provide taxpayer-funded accounts to parents enrolling their kids in private schools was hailed Thursday as a viable option to spur educational choice while critics worried it would siphon money from the a ...

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.

Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.