Update as of 9/13: The Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission has announced they will deliver the first set of maps to the legislature at 10 AM on Sept 16. The maps will be available publicly shortly after. 

TRAC is also holding a series of virtual public hearings on the maps on Sept 20, 21, and 22. More information about those hearings and how to join can be found here.

The right to vote is one of the most sacred civil liberties we have as citizens. Part of ensuring that right is the process of 'redistricting'. 

Iowa is now in the process of redistricting. Unlike in some states, which have problems with gerrymandering (see below), Iowa's system has been nonpartisan and preserves fair and equal map-drawing. 

But because of COVID-related delays, the process has had to be altered. We are concerned that politicians may use this opportunity to tinker with the redistricting rules for their own benefit. 

The ACLU of Iowa is remaining vigilant to ensure the current round of redistricting stays nonpartisan and doesn't give any politicians an unfair advantage. We encourage you, the voters, to find out more about redistricting (below) and how important it is that redistricting is fair and nonpartisan.

1. What exactly is redistricting?

Q.What exactly is redistricting?
A.

Redistricting is the process of redrawing the lines of districts from which public officials are elected. It takes place after each census (every 10 years) and affects all districts, whether for members of Congress, state legislatures, county commissions, city councils, etc. The purpose of redrawing the district maps is to rebalance the districts to reflect population changes, to ensure that one person has one vote, and every vote has the same weight. 

Those new district lines determine our political voice for the next decade. Every voter has a vital stake in redistricting because it determines the composition of districts that elect public officials at every level of government. 

Due to pandemic-related delays, the Census Bureau released the 2020 census data to the states on August 12. This jumpstarts the process of redistricting in Iowa.

2. How does redistricting work in Iowa?

Q.How does redistricting work in Iowa?
A.

Iowa has a unique redistricting process established to maintain a nonpartisan approach and preserve fair and equal map-drawing.

The usual process would be:

  1. The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA) receives the census data and draws new maps accordingly. They then submit the map to the General Assembly and make publicly available copies of the plan.
  2. Iowa law also establishes a Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission that is tasked with scheduling and conducting at least three public hearings in different geographic regions of the state and to issue a report to the General Assembly summarizing the information and testimony received. (Iowa Code § 42.6(3).) 
  3. The General Assembly must then bring the first plan to a vote. No substantive amendments to the plan are allowed. 
  4. If either chamber of the General Assembly does not pass (or if the Governor vetoes) the first redistricting plan, LSA is required to submit a second plan. The General Assembly must then vote on this second plan. Again, no substantive amendments are allowed.
  5. If either chamber votes the second map down (or the Governor vetoes), LSA must then draw a third map. Unlike the first two plans, however, the third map may be amended by the General Assembly.

3. Why is this year different?

Q.Why is this year different?
A.

The Iowa Constitution requires the General Assembly to approve a map by September 1. It then requires that map be signed into law by the Governor by September 15. If these deadlines are not met, the Constitution requires the Supreme Court to "cause the maps to be drawn." This only applies to state legislative districts. Congressional districts are not subject to this timeline. 

Since the Census Bureau data was not released until August 12, far later than usual, a special Legislative session must be held to complete the maps. Given the shortened timeline, the Legislature is not able to convene before their Constitutional deadline. This means that a different process must be used this year. 

Both Legislative leadership and the Supreme Court have stated they intend to follow the framework as it currently exists under Iowa law. We were glad to see a top member of the Iowa Senate recently say this: “I look forward to following the non-partisan process established in Iowa Code... to create congressional and legislative districts for the next decade.”

The Legislative Services Agency has announced it will finish the first draft of maps by September 16. It is unclear at this time what process the Legislature and Supreme Court will use, and even when they will return to the Capitol to complete the 2021 redistricting.

4. What needs to be considered when drawing the district maps?

Q.What needs to be considered when drawing the district maps?
A.

First and foremost, state legislators must adhere to the principle of one person, one vote. In other words, individuals should have equal representation in voting. 

Second, the boundaries of the districts must be drawn in a way that ensures that the resulting maps comply with the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) which prohibits the boundaries of the districts from discriminating against citizens on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group. 

Third, the Iowa Constitution mandates that state legislative districts be contiguous. Contiguity refers to the rule that electoral districts in a state be physically adjacent. A district is considered contiguous if all parts of the district are in physical contact with some other part of the district. 

Iowa law also specifically provides that districts shall not be drawn to favor any political party, an incumbent legislator or member of Congress, or any other person or group, or for the purpose of augmenting or diluting the voting strength of a language or racial minority group (Iowa Code § 42.4(5).)

5. What are the ACLU of Iowa’s biggest concerns regarding redistricting?

Q.What are the ACLU of Iowa’s biggest concerns regarding redistricting?
A.

Fairness. We believe that voting should be safe, secure, and fair. Redistricting is how we help each vote count equally. 

Iowa has a strong tradition of nonpartisan redistricting and that tradition must be continued. Iowa voters should continue to be able to choose their representatives, not the other way around. 

Because the process is necessarily different this year, it opens the door to potential partisan influences. Iowa legislators must adhere to our traditional nonpartisan approach and not use this opportunity to change the maps to favor any politician or party.

6. What is gerrymandering?

Q.What is gerrymandering?
A.

Gerrymandering is when district boundaries are drawn to manipulate electoral outcomes. District lines can be changed to predetermine the political outcome of elections, suppressing the voice of some voters. Gerrymandering can also be used to dilute the influence of voters of color. One method involves “packing” communities of color into a small number of districts to weaken their voting power when they would otherwise be an influential voting block across multiple districts. Districts can also be drawn to reduce the voting power of communities of color by “cracking” the community into several districts that are overwhelmingly white.

7. How does gerrymandering impact constitutional rights?

Q.How does gerrymandering impact constitutional rights?
A.

Gerrymandering substantially burdens voters’ fundamental rights, including their First Amendment right to associate for the advancement of political beliefs, to express political views, and to participate in the political process; their First and Fourteenth Amendment right to cast a meaningful vote; and their Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection and treatment under the law.

8. How could gerrymandering even happen in Iowa?

Q.How could gerrymandering even happen in Iowa?
A.

Ultimately, while we support what Legislators and the Supreme Court have said, at the end of the day, it’s what they do that matters. We are always concerned that the Legislature may try to amend redistricting maps in a partisan way. The unique circumstances caused by the delay in the census means some laws simply don’t apply like they usually do. So, we urge all Iowans to contact their Legislators, and urge them to keep their promise of fair and nonpartisan redistricting - because there should never be gerrymandering in Iowa.