Every 10 years, the United States government counts the number of people who reside in our nation. This census then becomes the basis for determining how many members of the U.S. House of Representatives each state has. States also use the census in deciding how the boundaries for districts in state legislatures will be drawn.
In most places, the battle over what the boundaries of federal and state legislative districts will be ends up being intensely partisan. The leaders of each party attempt to get district maps adopted that maximize the number of seats their party is likely to win. It’s not unusual for the process to produce oddly shaped districts that give an extra advantage to whichever party had the greater role in drawing the map. Critics of the way redistricting takes place in most states argue that it makes the competition between our political parties less fair than it should be.
Here in Iowa, a different approach has been in place since 1980. Nonpartisan staff members of the Legislative Services Agency are charged with producing district maps of similar size the design of which is not influenced by the political leanings of the voters who reside within them. Making sure the districts are as close to the same population as possible is a key part of this undertaking. Once the LSA develops its initial maps, hearings are held allowing the public to comment on the proposals. The Legislature is given the opportunity for an up or down vote on the recommendations. If the lawmakers reject the initial maps, the LSA produces a second set and the process repeats itself. If the second maps are rejected, a third attempt takes place. The Legislature can at this stage modify the maps or adopt its own.
The initial district maps proposed recently by the LSA are reasonable and should be adopted by the Legislature when it meets in a special session that convenes today. While some lawmakers may be tempted to move the process to the stage where they can gain partisan advantage by modifying the maps, we urge them to avoid this temptation. The nonpartisan redistricting system that our state has used for four decades works well. It produces legislative districts that are widely regarded as sensible and fair.
The highly partisan redistricting games that occur in so many states increase the cynicism that so many Americans have about our politics. It would be a huge mistake for members of Iowa’s Legislature to introduce partisan considerations into Iowa’s redistricting process. Promptly adopting the initial plans proposed by the LSA will allow present and would-be officeholders to get on with the explaining to voters why their ideas warrant support. That, of course, is what elections should be about.
In the days ahead, newspapers and news broadcasts will be filled with stories about partisan wrangling in many states regarding district maps. If more states followed Iowa’s nonpartisan redistricting approach much of this nonproductive turmoil could be avoided. Here in the Hawkeye State we must make certain that nothing happens in the upcoming special legislative session that would compromise our state’s commitment to an excellent redistricting system.
Fort Dodge Messenger