116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The article in the Aug. 12 Gazette by James Lynch and Erin Murphy (“Race to redraw districts starts today with long-delayed data”) reported that the Census Bureau would release population data on that day, so the process to reapportion legislative districts can begin. But the article failed to cover a significant issue: gerrymandering.
Iowa has a well-regarded process for reapportionment. For the most part the Iowa Legislature does not create the district boundaries and cannot redistrict for political gain. The creation of the legislative districts is done by the Legislative Services Agency, a non-partisan agency that provides technical data-driven information to the legislature on various issues.
Iowa law provides that the Legislative Services Agency, using official census data, shall create a map of legislative districts essentially equal in population. The districts must also be compact and contiguous, meaning that there cannot be any drawn out oddly shaped districts designed for political purposes. That map is presented to the Legislature. The Legislature can vote the plan up or down, but cannot amend it. If the plan is voted down, the Legislative Services Agency creates a second map. The Legislature can vote that plan up or down, but cannot amend it. If the second plan is voted down, a third and final map is created. So far, so good. But here is where there is an opening for mischief. The third plan can be amended by the Legislature.
The Republican majority can amend the third plan to give Republicans an advantage. Although the Iowa Constitution prevents an oddly shaped district for political advantage, there are still creative ways to gerrymander the districts. There are computer software programs now that can analyze the population data, including the political party and voting patterns of the residents, down to the city block or county section level. Politicians elsewhere have developed gerrymandering into a fine art.
This should not be a Republican or Democratic issue. One person, one vote is the bedrock of democracy. As has been said, voters should choose their representatives. The politicians should not be able to choose their voters.
The news media, including The Gazette, must inform the public about the possibility of gerrymandering. And the people of Iowa must tell our legislators that we don’t want them to manipulate our right to vote.
Wally Taylor lives in Marion.