The boundaries for Iowa’s congressional districts and for Iowa House and Senate districts are redrawn every 10 years based on the updated census count. By law, the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency is to produce a series of new district maps within 45 days of getting the data. With this year’s delay, the legislature is unlikely to meet the September 1 deadline for approving a plan.
The Iowa Supreme Court is responsible for overseeing redistricting if lawmakers fail to meet that deadline, but the court has signaled that due to this year’s circumstances, it will allow the legislature to keep following the redistricting process beyond September 1.
Ed Cook, an attorney with the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency, will be leading development of the proposed maps. He says under state law, no Iowa county can be split into two separate congressional districts.
“Keep in mind, with only 99 pieces of the puzzle, there’s not an infinite number of ways you can combine them,” Cook says.
Redrawing the boundaries of state legislative districts is guided by state law, too. For example, so called “nesting” is required — so two Iowa House districts are in each Iowa Senate district. The districts have to be as compact as possible, too, meaning the boundaries form something similar to a square or rectangle.
“Our approach is a blind process,” Cook says. “…We don’t go in and make an analysis as to what’s competitive. As a non-partisan staffer, I think that would be a disconnect for me to make a determination as to that.”
Cook, who worked on the three previous redistricting processes, made his comments during a forum on Iowa’s reapportionment process that was broadcast on C-SPAN.
If legislators reject the first set of proposed maps, the Legislative Services Agency has up to 35 days to present lawmakers with a second batch. If the second set it rejected and a third set of redrawn districts is required, legislators can propose and vote on changes to that third set. The first two plans cannot be altered before legislators vote on them.
The National Conference of State Legislatures has more information about the process here.