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Legislative redistricting on hold until Iowa gets ‘granular’ census data

Legislative redistricting on hold until Iowa gets ‘granular’ census data

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The Iowa State Capitol building Friday, July 31, 2020, in Des Moines.

DES MOINES — Though this week’s Census Bureau population numbers provided answers about which states gained and lost seats in the U.S. House, they were of little help to the folks who have to draw the new Iowa legislative districts.

The Census Bureau count of 3,192,406 Iowans confirmed the state will maintain four congressional districts for the next 10 years.

“So now we can divide by four and 50 and 100 and know the ideal population of a congressional district, state House district and state Senate district,” said Ed Cook, senior legal counsel at the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency that will map the new boundaries.

The redistricting process already is behind schedule because of delays caused by the pandemic and the Trump administration’s efforts to change how the census was done.

Ten years ago, the Iowa Legislature approved a redistricting plan April 14.

“We need the granular data is to start redistricting,” Cook said, referring to county, city and township population data. “Given how exact we try to get each district to the ideal population, it really does depend on the Census Bureau numbers to give us what we need.”

Cook doesn’t expect to see that level of data until mid-August. That could be a problem because under the Iowa Constitution, if the Legislature does not approve a redistricting plan before Sept. 15, the responsibility moves to the state Supreme Court.

The Iowa Supreme Court, In response to numerous questions about how it would proceed if lawmakers miss the deadline, issued a vaguely worded statement in early April saying it “tentatively plans to meet its constitutional responsibility by implementing a process which permits, to the extent possible, the redistricting framework presently set forth in Iowa Code chapter 42 to proceed after Sept. 15.”

“Legally and constitutionally, the Supreme Court cannot commit to a future course of action beforehand,” the court said, so the statement “should not be considered legally binding.”

For now, it’s a waiting game. That includes waiting for the Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission of two Democrats and two Republicans to choose a fifth member and select a chairperson. So far, no one has received the necessary three votes, and it has no meetings scheduled, Cook said.

The commission’s role is to conduct public hearings on the redistricting plan before the Legislature votes. With the delay in census information, that won’t be for months.

Although political party and campaign strategists may be creating model redistricting plans with the state population number, Cook said he’ll wait for actual census data.

“It's just speculation at this point,” he said. “You need those exact numbers, and until you get those exact numbers, you really can't draw too many conclusions.”

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