DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Legislature on Tuesday rejected the first set of redistricting maps drawn by a state agency, raising concerns that majority Republicans may opt to insert politics into the state’s nonpartisan process.
The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency drew the maps, which were released Sept. 16. They proposed revising Iowa’s four congressional districts to include two that lean heavily toward Republicans, one that favors Democrats and one that both parties would have a chance at winning.
After a committee moved the first set of maps to the Senate floor without debate, the full Senate rejected the first plan on a party-line vote, with all 32 Republicans voting no and the 18 Democrats voting yes.
By state law, the LSA is responsible for following detailed guidelines to ensure population balance among Iowa’s congressional districts and to prevent political influence in the initial drafting of changes. By law, the Legislature can only accept or reject the maps without amendment.
The LSA now has 35 days to draw a second set of maps, which again must be voted up or down by lawmakers with no amendments. If that is rejected, the LSA would have another 35 days to draw a third set of maps, which could be amended with majority Republicans leading that process. The Iowa Supreme Court has given lawmakers a deadline of Dec. 1 to approve the new maps.
Republican Sen. Roby Smith said the first plan meets statutory requirements but that Republicans believe it can be improved. He said some legislative districts are irregularly shaped and that population deviations should be improved in a second map.
“There are opportunities for these maps to be improved on compactness and population. Voting down the first plan does not violate the quote-unquote gold standard,” he said, noting Iowa law provides a clear direction for multiple plans.
Democratic Sen. Tony Bisignano warned Republicans that heading toward an amended plan could allow politics into what should be a nonpartisan process.
“The partisanship is killing this country. The partisanship is killing this body. It’s killing local bodies. It’s killing neighborhoods and friendships,” he said.
If the second maps are rejected, it would be the first time in 40 years that the Legislature took the process to the third set of maps.
Iowa began its current redistricting process in 1981 in an effort to streamline the process by removing political influence. That year, lawmakers rejected the first two maps and approved the third without modification in September.
In later years, the first plan was adopted in 1991 and 2011. The second plan was adopted in 2001.
The first LSA maps had congressional districts that each hewed closely to the ideal district population of 797,592.
The maps proposed a southeastern Iowa 1st Congressional District likely to favor Democrats by placing Linn, Johnson and Scott counties in one district. In south-central Iowa, the 3rd District would have slightly leaned Democratic thanks to the inclusion of Polk County, the state’s large population base.
The new largely rural 4th District would have grown from 39 counties to 44 counties and become even more conservative. The proposed 2nd district would have included 26 counties and leaned more toward Republicans than the current district.
Iowa now has one Democrat in the U.S. House and three Republicans.
For state lawmakers the proposed maps placed 24 Senators and 38 House members in a district with another incumbent, for a total of 62 lawmakers who would have to run against each other, move or drop out.
Because the Senate rejected the maps, the House didn’t vote on the redistricting proposal.