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DSM USA Policy HQ - Redistricting In Iowa

DSM USA Policy Headquarters

January 19, 2021


The DSM USA Policy Headquarters podcast is a monthly conversation between experts on public policy topics impacting business and the relationship between government and the private sector.

The newest episode first welcomes Ed Cook, legal counsel for the Iowa Legislative Services Agency, and dives into the topic of redistricting in Iowa. In the second half of the podcast, former Iowa Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal and former Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, touch on redistricting standards and why they are important to community members. 

History of Redistricting Model

Iowa’s redistricting model began with litigation in the 1970s challenging the legislative redistricting map as not being of equal population. The Iowa Supreme Court decided the map was not constitutional and drew their own map. As the Iowa Legislature prepared for the 1980 Census, they adopted Iowa’s process for redistricting. 

Cook discusses how Iowa’s process begins with the delivery of Census data that provides population and geographical boundaries. This starts the process. Then, the Legislative Services Agency prepares a congressional and legislative plan based on Iowa Code standards and presents them to the Legislature, who has the opportunity to vote it up or down. Prior to that, public hearings are held about the plan and eventually provide a report to the Legislature. If adopted, it goes to the Governor to sign or veto. If, within the process, the Senate, House or Governor reject the plan, it goes back the Legislative Services Agency to prepare a second plan within 35 days. This process continues until a plan is adopted; however, the third plan is subject to amendment by the Legislature. The Iowa Constitution provides a deadline for completion of legislative redistricting, which must be done by September 1 and signed into law by September 15. If the deadline is not met, the Iowa Supreme Court will then ensure a plan is adopted. 

COVID-19 Delays

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the Census Bureau completing their task in 2020 and 2021, including delivering counts to Congress and redistricting data to the states. At this point, the Legislative Services Agency is waiting to receive data and will work to submit a map for consideration in a timely fashion and prior to the September 1 deadline. 

Redistricting Model Standards

Cook says that Iowa’s model is unique. Some states use a commission. Iowa has a non-partisan agency creating the redistricting map. He explains how Iowa’s standards include equal population and prohibitive factors, including not taking into account any political information (party registration, results of election, etc.) in developing the plan. Gronstal and Upmeyer further discuss how the process is non-partisan, with neither party having influence over the procedure. 

Caring About the Data

How does the reset impact representation at the state level? Gronstal says that in fast-growing communities, you can end up with a senate district that has 90,000 people but has a diminished voice due to the quick population growth (e.g., from rural to suburb). Upmeyer says that communicating with legislators from districts in the rural areas can be difficult due to the smaller population spread out among a larger geographical area. At the same time, small businesses, manufacturing and agriculture impact the community and representation — whether it’s a larger or smaller area geographically — matters. When lines change, Upmeyer says people must pay attention so they know who is now representing them. 

You can listen to the entire episode here.

The DSM USA Policy Headquarters podcast focuses on public policy topics impacting business and the relationship between government and the private sector. Join us each month to hear from local Greater Des Moines (DSM) experts. To listen to more Partnership podcasts, click here.


The DSM USA Policy HQ podcast focuses on public policy topics impacting business and the relationship between government and the private sector.