Redistricting in Iowa

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Note: Redistricting takes place every ten years after completion of the United States Census. The information here pertains to the 2010 redistricting process.

Redistricting in Iowa
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General information
Partisan control:
Iowa Legislative Service Agency draws boundaries, General Assembly and Governor must approve plan
September 15, 2011
Total seats
State Senate:
State House:
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Redistricting on PolicypediaState legislative and congressional redistricting after the 2010 CensusState-by-state redistricting procedures
Redistricting in Iowa features a unique process relative to the other 49 states. Rather than a special commission or legislative committee, the nonpartisan Iowa Legislative Service Agency is responsible for drawing the lines. However, any plan introduced by the Agency must be approved by the Governor and the General Assembly.


The Iowa Legislative Services Agency uses computer software to generate a proposed redistricting map, disregarding all factors except population.[1] Although the legislature must still approve the final maps, this process has not been contentious in the past.[2] According to Ed Cook, senior legal analyst with the Legislative Services Agency, "The thing that makes us unique to most states is basically we don't take into account any political information."[3]

For congressional redistricting, the Iowa Code does not permit redistricting maps to split counties. For state-level redistricting, counties and cities should be split as little as possible. Greater leeway is given in splitting larger counties and cities. State law also mandates that all districts are drawn within one percent of their ideal population. Under the 2010 Census, ideal congressional districts for Iowa would contain 761,589 residents. Ideal State Senate districts would contain 60,927 residents, and ideal State House district would contain 30,464 residents.[4][5]

In 2011, Iowa's bipartisan Temporary Redistricting Commission unanimously selected Maggie Tinsman to oversee state and congressional redistricting.[6]

Census Results

Census results

Iowa lost a congressional seat in the 2010 Census. As a result, the state's total was reduced from five to four congressional districts.[7]

Local census data

On February 10, Iowa received its detailed 2010 census data.[8] The data showed strong growth in the state's suburban areas and contraction in a few cities and the state's rural counties.[9]

2010 Census redistricting

Nonpartisan model may avert gridlock

Since the current redistricting process was enacted in 1980, Iowa has not experienced the gridlock that other states have faced while redistricting. The success of Iowa's redistricting approach can be traced to the Legislative Services Agency's nonpartisan nature.[10]

Uncertainty awaits

Despite Iowa's population gains over the past decade, the state was forced to eliminate one congressional seat. In addition, due to population shifts around the state, every remaining congressional district needed to be redrawn. This introduced significant uncertainty regarding the final maps. Since the Legislative Service Agency can only use population data to redraw districts, Eastern Iowa stood to gain greater representation in Congress while Western Iowa was threatened with a loss of clout. In the past decade, the state saw a great deal of population growth in Iowa City and Des Moines, two cities in the Eastern part of the state.[11] Jim Ellis, an analyst at the PRIsm consulting firm, speculated that the state's 4th Congressional District would be a likely target of redistricting since the district lacked major "anchor" cities and its elimination would allow for the expansion of the state's Eastern districts.[12]

Controversy possible

Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal said that the process of lawmakers losing their seats through no fault of their own “probably makes people a little nervous.” Gronstal felt that the uncertain future lawmakers face would not distract them from their work. The Majority Leader said: “in the end we've got a job to do and we'll do that job.” Ed Cook, Senior Counsel for the Legislative Service Agency, felt that the uncertainty of redistricting is "Iowa's version of term limits."[13] UC-Berkeley political scientist Bruce Cain further added that 2011 may prove to be a particularly contentious redistricting cycle for Iowa. Despite Iowa's respected nonpartisan process he noted, "That's going to be a more potentially controversial decision, getting rid of one seat and moving other seats around to swallow up territory that is lost... It's going to be a more severe test of the system than if Iowa was adding a seat or staying the same." Cain also cited increased political tension as a chief source of potential controversy.[2] However, even if political controversy over redistricting remained mild, worry over other issues, like the state budget, threatened to result in a constrained timeline for adopting new maps.[14]

Redistricting plan released

The first (and ultimately final) redistricting plan for Iowa was released on March 31, 2011. The plan was to be accepted or rejected by the Governor and legislature. Per rules, three consecutive plans may be rejected before the decision is referred to the Iowa Supreme Court.[15]

The plan put U.S. Representatives Tom Latham (R) and Steve King (R) together in District 4, and Reps. Bruce Braley (D) and Dave Loebsack (D) together in the first district. Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) remained alone in District 3, leaving District 2 open. The legislative plan drew a number of incumbents into neighboring districts where they would face other sitting legislators. The Senate plan involved seven of these matchups, including one Democratic pairing, two bi-partisan matchups, and three Republican pairings. Notably, the plan drew Senate President Jack Kibbie (D) and incumbent David Johnson (R) into the same district. The House plan included one bi-partisan matchup, three Democratic pairings, and 9 Republican pairings. The plan left 14 of the state's 100 House districts without an incumbent.[16][17][18]

While the legislative plan was considered even-handed, the Congressional plan was seen as favorable to Democrats.[19] While the map paired incumbents from both parties, at the time of redistricting, Loebsack lived only 20 miles from District 2 and Johnson County, the Democratic stronghold of his current district.[20] (Note: Loebsack since announced that he would move and run in District 2[21]) Comments from the congressional delegation can be found here.

Some predicted that the plan would not pass. In the prvious redistricting cycle, 2001, the second set of maps was ultimately approved.[18] However, others cited a lack of controversy surrounding the maps as a sign of their eventual approval.[19] In addition, the state's bipartisan redistricting commission unanimously advised legislators to adopt the maps.[22] Nevertheless, residents of the areas affected by the plan expressed reservations, especially concerning the division of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.[23]

Overall, the maps showed solid conformity to ideal districts, especially the proposed congressional maps. For congressional districts, the ideal district is 761,589 residents. The proposed map showed only a .01% variance, a variance of less than 50 residents per district. For the Iowa House of Representatives, the ideal district would have 30,464 residents and the variance is 1.93%, a variance of less than 300 residents. For the Iowa State Senate, the ideal district would have 60,927 residents and the variance is 1.65%, a variance of less than 550 residents. Overall, the variance for congressional districts was lower than in the previous three redistricting cycles. The variances for legislative maps were up over the previous (2001) cycle.[24]

Public input sought on redistricting plans

Before the legislature could legally act on a redistricting plan, the Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission was required to compile public input. To this end, four public hearings were held in April 2011. Comments were aggregated and submitted to the state legislature. Legislators were required to wait at least three days after the report was submitted before voting.[25]

  • April 4, 6:00 to 8:30 pm, Council Bluffs Library, ICN Room
  • April 5, 7:00 to 9:00 pm, Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency
  • April 6, 6:30 to 9:00 pm, Kirkwood Community College, ICN Room
  • April 7, 7:00 to 9:00 pm, Wallace State Office Building Auditorium

Redistricting maps approved

Iowa approved the first round of redistricting maps offered by the Iowa Legislative Services Agency. The plan passed by a 48-1 margin in the State Senate and a 90-7 margin in the Iowa House. All three maps -- Congressional, Senate, and House -- were included in the proposal.[26] On April 19, Governor Terry Branstad signed the plan into law.

The maps were generally acknowledged to favor congressional Democrats, but GOP leaders supported the plan rather than risk a new round of maps less friendly to state legislative incumbents. The few 'no' votes surrounded the splitting of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City into different congressional districts and the failure of the maps to give distinct representation to some rural and urban interests.[27][28]

The maps as approved can be found below.[29] The state also released several interactive maps integrated into Google Maps--Congress, State Senate, State House.

 Iowa Redistricting: 2000 vs. 2010 Census Maps 


The Iowa Legislative Service Agency (LSA) was to produce a map by April 1, 2011. Three public hearings were then required before the Iowa Legislature votes on whether the maps are approved. However, lawmakers could not amend the map or block the map in committee.[3] If the plan failed to pass, another had to be sent within 35 days. In the event that this plan failed, another amendable plan was to be submitted to the legislature. The General Assembly was to approve a plan by September 1, 2011, and the governor must sign it by September 15, 2011.[4]


The state's current redistricting system was first used in 1981. Prior to 1981, the state faced multiple lawsuits over redistricting which effectively placed redistricting in the hands of the Iowa Supreme Court.[30] As a result of the current system, incumbents have been paired into new districts. This has resulted in hotly contested primaries between incumbents who have served in separate districts[31].

Pre-2010 maps

The images in Figure 2 and Figure 3 to the right show legislative districts as they appear after the 2000 census and prior to the 2010 redistricting. The image in Figure 1 shows Iowa's congressional districts as they appear after the 2000 census.

Deviation from "Ideal Districts"

2000 Population Deviation[32]
Office Percentage
Congressional Districts 0.02%
State House Districts 1.89%
State Senate Districts 1.46%
Under federal law, districts may vary from an 'Ideal District' by up to 10%, though the lowest number achievable is preferred. 'Ideal Districts' are computed through simple division of the number of seats for any office into the population at the time of the Census.

Constitutional explanation

With respect to Congressional redistricting, the Iowa Constitution provides authority to the legislature under Section 37 of Article III. The relevant text for legislative redistricting is located in Section 34, Section 35, Section 36 and Section 39 of Article III.

See also

External links


  1. Des Moines Register, "Census results out next week; loss of House seat expected," December 14, 2010
  2. 2.0 2.1 ABC 6, "Iowa's politics-free redistricting faces test," February 10, 2011
  3. 3.0 3.1 Waterloo Falls Courier, "Iowa prepares for losing a seat in Congress," December 14, 2010
  4. 4.0 4.1 Journal Express, "Rep. VanEngelenhoven on the week in the Legislature," February 21, 2011
  5. Quad-City Times, "Politicians anxious to begin redistricting," February 10, 2011
  6. Quad City Times, "Tinsman to lead redistricting panel," February 17, 2011
  7. Des Moines Register, "Iowa loses U.S. House seat in shift from Midwest, Northeast to South" 21 Dec. 2010
  8. US Census Bureau, "U.S. Census Bureau Delivers Iowa's 2010 Census Population Totals, Including First Look at Race and Hispanic Origin Data for Legislative Redistricting," February 10, 2010
  9. Radio Iowa, "Detailed 2010 Census data for Iowa released," February 10, 2010
  10. WQAD-TV "Iowa lawmakers will tackle redistricting" 8 Jan 2011 (dead link)
  11. Iowa City Press-Citizen, "Population up, but Iowa losing seat" 22 Dec 2010
  12. Jim Ellis Insights, "In Iowa, Who Will Be Out?," February 14, 2011
  13. Sioux City Journal, "Reformers envious of Iowa's redistricting process" 7 Jan 2011
  14., "Iowa faces budget issues and redistricting," March 15, 2011 (dead link)
  15., "Iowa's first redistricting plan released March 31," March 18, 2011 (dead link)
  16. The Iowa Independent, "Proposed redistricting plan brings minor legislative shifts," March 31, 2011
  17. DesMoines Register, "Seven pairings in Iowa Senate redistricting proposal," March 31, 2011
  18. 18.0 18.1 The American Independent, "New Iowa redistricting map pits Tom Latham against Steve King in 4th District," March 31, 2011 (dead link)
  19. 19.0 19.1 Des Moines Register, "Iowa parties willing to take chances on redistricting map," April 11, 2011
  20. Des Moines Register, "Democratic edge seen in initial redistricting proposal for Iowa," April 1, 2011
  21. Quad City Times, "Loebsack announces re-election bid," April 14, 2010
  22. Des Moines Register, "Commission advises approval of redistricting proposal," April 12, 2011
  23. Eastern Iowa Government, "Eastern Iowans cold to splitting Iowa City and Cedar Rapids in U.S. House," April 6, 2011
  24. DesMoines Register, "How balanced is Iowa’s redistricting proposal? See for yourself," April 1, 2011
  25. Eastern Iowa Government, "Representative Tyler Olson Capitol Update," March 24, 2011
  26. Reuters, "Iowa legislature approves redistricting plan," April 14, 2011
  27. Eastern Iowa Government, "Lawmaker casts ‘no’ vote against splitting I-380 ‘Corridor’," April 14, 2011
  28. Politico, "Iowa OKs redistricting plan," April 14, 2011
  29. Iowa Legislature, Iowa Redistricting 2011
  30. FairVote, "Why Iowa Has So Many Hot Seats," October 27, 2002
  31. Carolina Journal, "Iowa Offers Redistricting Lessons," January 23, 2004
  32. National Conference of State Legislatures, “Redistricting 2000 Population Deviation Table”," accessed February 1, 2011