Reapportionment in Iowa

The following information is from Chapter 8, “Gettin’ ‘Ur Done,” contained in the centennial history of the work of Iowa Leaguers entitled, And They Persisted…A Century of Impact by Iowa Leagues, a +270-page book complete with +70 photos/cartoons/graphics published in 2020 and available for purchase.


REAPPORTIONMENT (REDISTRICTING) – Redistricting is the process of re-drawing legislative (voting district) boundaries every ten years following the national census, which is required by both the US and the Iowa Constitutions. The purpose is to insure congressional and state legislatures are representative of the population in order to preserve the “one citizen – one vote” tenet of our democracy. 

The Iowa process is lauded as a model for other states due to its non-partisan method for drawing the districts that are to contain population equality, with consideration of other factors such as contiguousness and compactness. The Iowa process limits the participation of elected officials and places the responsibility for configuring the districts with an independent redistricting entity, the Legislative Services Agency. Only six other states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, and Washington) have a similar approach to counter gerrymandering, or incumbent manipulation of district formation (see gerrymandering in Glossary Appendix.)

The League has a long history with reapportionment, beginning a study of the issue in 1955 due to the fact that the Iowa legislature had not been reapportioned since 1886! The study confirmed the public opinion at the time that a receding rural population was over-represented in the legislature due to a growing urban population. In fact, Candace Lambie of Grinnell said of her lobbying days at the Capitol, “I spoke before the Iowa Legislature as League President and we found that the legislators did not know the word reapportionment, so it was our duty to inform them. We sent out 5000 flyers to various people and organizations explaining reapportionment. After some time, a lot of talks, and a lot of paperwork, it was recognized that it was a good idea.” 

The resulting League consensus of supporting “more equitable representation” was formed in 1956 and at the LWVIA Convention in 1959 “action to obtain fair representation in the Iowa Legislature by a constitutional convention or legislative enactment” was approved and the work of Leaguers across the state began. The 1964 US Supreme Court decision in Reynolds v. Sims, known as the “One man, one vote” decision, added urgency to Iowa getting in compliance with federal mandates for every-ten-year redistricting based on population. 

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It is worth the reader’s time to note the League’s consensus statements below for comparison to the 1968 Constitutional amendment and to the 1981 procedural provisions, both with similar, if not exact, directives (see Reapportionment in Iowa Appendix). 

1966 League consensus on reapportionment (1. in 1966 and 2. added in 1979):

1. Assurance for real and adequate reapportionment every ten years by creating: a non-legislative bipartisan reapportionment authority; recourse directly to the Supreme Court with the Court able to make a re-districting plan if the commission fails to do so; apportionment of both House and Senate by population only, crossing of county lines permitted; and single member districts.

2. Reapportionment procedures should contain strict anti-gerrymandering provisions.

Not only has the Iowa Reapportionment Process been lauded by political scientists across the nation, but the National Conference of State Legislatures. NCSL reported 4/6/2018 that “Iowa stands alone in how it handles redistricting responsibilities”, not only due to a non-partisan agency producing the every-ten-year plan, but particularly due to its prohibition of the use of political data, i.e. addresses of incumbents, the political affiliations of registered voters, previous election results, and demographic information not required by the federal constitution. 

But in addition to such public statements, the reapportionment plans created since the 1981 plan have not been challenged, as the Iowa Legislatures first plan in 1971 was, that challenge contained in the introductory chapter of this book, Stepping Up! 

School district reapportionment - The League learned in the summer of 1981 that school districts did not have to reapportion their director districts unless they underwent re-organization. The League disagreed with this practice and that fall made the issue a priority for attention, collecting data from 441 school districts to ascertain what methods were used to elect their school board members, along with information on the demographics of the districts – data-based decision-making! The compiled survey information was given to Rep. Jean Lloyd-Jones, Johnson County, who requested an attorney’s general opinion on several school reapportionment questions. That decision was as follows: school districts must use the latest federal census figures when creating or changing subdistrict (director district) boundaries and do so every ten years, with the “one person, one vote” guideline; school districts must use one of the methods provided in the Iowa Code to elect school board members and if they use methods b, c, d, or e in the Code, Section 275.12(2), the director districts must be “substantially equal” in population. The needed legislation to codify this attorney general opinion was accomplished in 1983 via SF 485.