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Iowa redistricting chief says completing process 'a good feeling'

Ed Cook, senior legal counsel for the Legislative Services Agency.
Ed Cook, senior legal counsel for the Legislative Services Agency.

Perhaps no one was more relieved to see Gov. Terry Branstad sign Iowa’s 2011 congressional and legislative redistricting plan into law than Ed Cook.

“It’s a good feeling to complete the process so early in the year,” Cook said after witnessing the bill signing Tuesday. “You go into it expecting you could be drawing up to three plans, so ultimately it’s up to the Legislature and governor to decide how many plans we’ll have to draw.”

Cook, senior legal counsel for the Legislative Services Agency, doesn’t know how many maps were drawn, but said the plan that just became law “basically jumped out” at his three-member team.

“It wasn’t created right off, but it was like, wow, this one’s definitely got potential for being the one that will be selected,” he said.

And it was selected by lawmakers as a plan that not only met the legal requirements of Iowa’s non-partisan redistricting law, but satisfied the political requirements of most legislators. The plan was adopted 90-7 by the House and 48-1 by the Senate.

Iowa’s redistricting system was developed in the 1980s to remove politics from the process of redrawing political boundaries based on the decennial census, Branstad noted while signing the bill.

“We can have some pride in the fact that Iowa has a system for reapportionment that is fair, that really gives the people an opportunity to choose their congressmen and their representatives and senators in a competitive system that isn’t really designed to skew it in favor of one party or the other,” Branstad said.

Cook modestly says he and his crew simply followed the law to draw a map of 100 House and 50 Senate districts, and divide the state into four congressional districts.

“We do it from a completely non-partisan way and when it gets released they have to analyze it and how it impacts them politically,” he said. “We don’t take that into account."

Ten years ago, “the first plan looked good from our perspective, but they didn’t like it,” he said. “So I think it’s just kind of happenstance that it worked out so well.”

Well, happenstance along with a lot of time and data as well as a lot of maps that don’t see the light of day. When Cook and company learned Iowa would lose a congressional seat, they started to practice drawing four-district maps.

Even after getting the 2010 census data, the LSA drew numerous maps before one met the legal requirements of compactness, contiguity – that is, convenient contiguous territory, unity of counties and cities, and coming as close to the one person, one vote standard.

Computers and software have made the process easier, Cook acknowledges, “but it’s not as easy as pushing a button.”

In fact, LSA Director Glen Dickinson estimates the process cost about $110,000 in hard costs – computer hardware and software, and training, for example. Cook and Gary Rudicil, another LSA staff who works on redistricting, each put in about 640 hours. A consultant hired for the job put in about 600 hours. Dickinson adds another $70,000 to the tab  for soft costs – basically the cost of LSA staff doing redistricting rather than their usual work.

That’s less than half of the $441,000 spent on redistricting 10 years ago, Dickinson said. He attributed $10,000 to $15,000 of the cost in 2001 to drawing a second plan after lawmakers rejected the first map.

Cook, who has been through the process twice, is impressed with how well Iowa’s system works.

“I just think it’s amazing that a system established in 1980 with pretty limited computer capability still works reasonably well in 2011 … how its been able to adjust to the increased computerization, but still result in a pretty fair process for everybody,” Cook said.

Redistricting FYI

  • HF 682, which was signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad April 19, reduces the number of Iowa’s U.S. House seats from five to four based on population growth.
  • It throws together two pairs of Iowa congressmen. However, 2nd District Rep. Dave Loebsack of Mount Vernon will move to the new 2nd District, an open district. Reps. Tom Latham and Steve King, both Republicans, are thrown together in the proposed 4th District that stretches across northern and northwestern Iowa. Latham will move to the new 3rd District to run against Des Moines Democrat Rep. Leonard Boswell.
  • In the Iowa House, where the GOP has a 60-40 majority, 27 incumbents are in districts with more than one incumbent and there are 14 districts with no incumbent.
  • In the Senate where Democrats have a 26-24 majority, 14 incumbents are paired up and there are seven districts with no incumbents.
  • According to the 2010 census, Iowa’s population is 3,046,355. The four congressional districts range from 761,548 to 761,624. Senate districts range from 60,318 to 61,536 people. House districts range from 30,160 to 30,768.
Source: SourceMedia Group News Des Moines Bureau

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