116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A panel advising state lawmakers on redistricting will conduct three virtual public hearings in September to gather input from Iowans on drawing new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts.
Although Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commissions have held in-person hearings around the state in the past, members agreed Monday that the virtual hearings will provide the most — and safest — opportunity for Iowans to comment before the Legislative Services Agency intends to release a plan by Sept. 16.
The online hearings will “maximize the opportunity” for participation, said Chris Hagenow, a former Republican legislator from Urbandale, and make the once-a-decade process “as inclusive as possible,” added Davenport lawyer Jazmin Newton.
The hearings will be from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Sept. 20; noon to 3 p.m. Sept. 21; and 6 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 22. Comments can be submitted online until the conclusion of the last hearing. Information on how to participate will be announced in the future.
With data received from the U.S. Census Bureau earlier this month, the Legislative Services Agency has begun work on creating four U.S. House districts, 50 Iowa Senate and 100 Iowa House districts based on criteria established in the U.S. and Iowa constitutions and state law.
Ed Cook, the agency’s lead attorney on redistricting, explained that the most important criteria is population equality across those districts. The goal is to make districts “as nearly equal as practicable,” he explained.
In preparing previous plans, the agency never has had a deviation from that standard of more than 1 percent. Any greater deviation would have to be justified by the Iowa Legislature.
“So for congressional redistricting, it's a matter of combining 99 counties in whatever combination you can come up with to get to that equal population requirement,” he said, comparing it to working on a 99-piece puzzle.
The process gets more challenging as the agency creates legislative districts that are equal in population, split as few political subdivisions as possible and maintain compactness and continuity, he said. No consideration can be given to where incumbents live, election results or demographic information except as how the Voting Rights Act would apply.
“The only information on our computer will be population,” Cook said. “Population is absolutely the most important standard, but it’s not the only consideration. Providing a plan that best blends the various standards does not lend itself to any precise mathematical calculation.”
“The software is a tool, but it's not push the button and it’ll spit out a House plan and the Senate plan and the congressional plan,” Cook said. So the agency is allowed to exercise its “best judgment” in creating the plans “based on all applicable constitutional and statutory requirements and standards.”
The advisory commission plans to reconvene Sept. 23 to begin work on its recommendation to legislators. who will meet in special session to approve redistricting plans.
That timeline does not does comply with the state constitutional requirement for the Legislature to approve a plan by Sept. 1 and for the plan to be enacted by Sept. 15. After that, the constitution shifts redistricting approval to the Iowa Supreme Court. In April, the court issued a statement saying it “tentatively plans to meet its constitutional responsibility by implementing a process which permits, to the extent possible, the redistricting framework presently set forth in Iowa Code chapter 42 to proceed after Sept. 15.”
Comments: (319) 398-8375; firstname.lastname@example.org