Johnson County and Linn County would once again be in the same congressional district, if the Iowa Legislature adopts the redistricting map published by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA) on Thursday. The two counites had both been part of Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, before the district’s boundaries were redrawn in 2010. In the map released Thursday, both would be part of a remade 1st Congressional District.
In addition to Johnson and Linn, the proposed 1st District would include 10 southeastern Iowa counties: Jones, Cedar, Clinton, Scott, Muscatine, Louisa, Henry, Des Moines, Van Buren and Lee.
The boundaries of congressional districts are reassessed every 10 years following the U.S. Census, based on population figures contained in it. Iowa is unique in using nonpartisan staff members to draw up new districts for Congress and for both chambers. Seven other states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, New Jersey and Washington — use commissions whose members are not politicians, and New Jersey uses a special commission made up of politicians. Thirty-five states leave redistricting in the hands of the state legislature, and six states have such small populations that there is only one congressional district for the entire state.
Using staff members to create new maps for both congressional districts and state legislative districts is designed to stop districts from being shaped for partisan advantage. Under Iowa law, districts must be close to equal in population as possible, respect political subdivision (for example, doesn’t divide a county between two districts) and be contiguous and compact. The map proposed on Thursday meets all these requirements.
In terms of population, the two proposed districts covering eastern Iowa, the 1st and the 2nd, are, respectively, the most and the least populous of Iowa’s four districts. The difference between the two extremes, however, is only 99 residents.
Even though Iowa law requires the district maps be drawn up without regard for any partisan political consideration, that doesn’t mean the maps wouldn’t have a major impact on partisan politics in Iowa.
The proposed 1st District would instantly be the most favorable district in the state for Democrats. According to the most recent voter registration figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office, the 12 counties that make up the proposed 1st District have 180,162 Democrats and 133,585 Republicans. Republicans don’t even make up the second-largest group of voters by registration in the 12 counties. There are 147,908 people who registered as No Party Preference.
Southeastern Iowa is currently represented in Congress by Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who won her seat in the current 2nd District in 2020 by only six votes. She would have a hard time repeating that sort of win in the proposed 1st District, which covers much of the current 2nd District, but then again, Miller-Meeks wouldn’t be a resident of that district.
Miller-Meeks lives in Wapello County, which is part of the new 2nd District in the proposed map. But just as the new map moves one Republican incumbent out of the district containing Johnson County, it moves another one in.
Ashley Hinson, who currently represents Linn County and northeastern Iowa in Congress, would find herself a resident of the heavily Democratic new 1st District, if the map is approved. So would the Democrat running against Hinson in the 2022 election, Liz Mathis. She lives in Hiawatha.
There is already a Democrat running for the congressional seat in the district containing Johnson County, state Rep. Christina Bohannan of Iowa City.
Members of Congress aren’t required by the U.S. Constitution to actually live in the district they represent — they only have to be a resident of the state — but it is traditional for them to do so. After the boundaries of the 2nd District were redrawn to exclude Linn County in 2011, then-incumbent Rep. Dave Loebsack, who lived in Mount Vernon, moved to Iowa City to remain in the district. He was reelected four more times before choosing not to run again in 2020.
Other proposed changes to Iowa’s congressional districts in the new map are less significant than the make-up of its 1st District. The 3rd District would still be dominated by Polk County, and would likely continue to lean Democratic. The 4th District covering western Iowa, already reliably Republican, becomes slightly more Republican, as Story County, which has more Democrats and No Preference voters than Republicans, is moved to the new 2nd District. According to Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, the counties that make up the proposed 2nd District, if considered as a single unit, overwhelmingly went for Donald Trump in the 2020 election, which bodes well for whoever the Republican candidate in that district is.
The Temporary Redistricting Advisory Committee will hold online hearings next week to solicit public opinion on the proposed changes. Following the meetings, the committee will deliver a report to the state legislature.
There are three hearings scheduled.
Monday, Sept. 20, 7-9:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 21: Noon-3 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 22: 6-8:30 p.m.
No link for the meetings has been posted yet.
Gov. Kim Reynolds has set Oct. 5 as the start date for a special session of the Iowa Legislature, during which lawmakers will consider and vote on the proposed changes to the congressional districts and state legislative districts. Any new map must be approved by the legislature, but lawmakers can only vote to accept or reject the map published on Thursday, they cannot modify it.
If a map is rejected, LSA has 35 days to propose another map, which will also face an up-or-down vote. If that second map is rejected, the agency has another 35 days to propose a third map. Lawmakers are allowed to make changes to the third proposed map, although they are still expected to follow the criteria set forth in Iowa law.
During the last redistricting process in 2011, the Iowa Legislature approved the first proposed set of map.