Iowa still seen as a model state for redistricting

DES MOINES — Iowa’s political landscape is confronted with the same divisiveness seen elsewhere in the U-S, but pro-democracy advocates say the state’s redistricting process still holds up as an effective way of serving voters.

Since 1980, Iowa has turned to nonpartisan legislative staff to redraw congressional boundaries, as well as those for state-level districts, every 10 years. They have to follow strict rules, including no use of political data, and lawmakers only take part when they vote on the maps.

Dave Daley, of the nonpartisan group FairVote, says Iowa’s approach has survived an increasingly contentious climate in the elections arena. “Forty-nine states in the country, and no one else does it like Iowa. Iowa is a model for nonpartisan, good government redistricting.”

Other states looking at reforms have noted Iowa’s process, but Daley says not all of it can be replicated elsewhere, in part due to the state’s geographic shape. A state commission has scheduled three virtual public hearings for September 20th, 21st, and 22nd pertaining to the proposed new electoral maps, with a commission to meet September 23rd to discuss the report it is required by law to present to the legislature that summarizes the public comments.

Daley says Iowa voters are being served well because of the competitive nature of races in general elections. “At one point in time during the last decade, Iowa had as many competitive races as about 25 other states in the nation, combined.”

He says gerrymandering in other states has resulted in too many candidates running uncontested. Even though Republicans currently control the Iowa Legislature and the executive branch, Daley says that isn’t a symptom of partisan redistricting. He says Iowa voters still have realistic chances of ushering in changes.  “What you really want out of a map is a responsive map. You want a majority of voters to be able to change their government if they wish to.”

He says with neither party in charge of redrawing Iowa’s maps, they can’t give themselves a long-term advantage. And that creates better chances of power shifts at various levels of state government. Despite its redistricting reputation, voters’ rights advocates say recent G-O-P-backed election-law changes in Iowa create fairness issues under the democratic process.

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