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Primer: Special session of the Iowa Legislature

Primer: Special session of the Iowa Legislature

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Primer: Special session of the Iowa Legislature

DES MOINES — Iowa state lawmakers will convene Tuesday at the Iowa Capitol for a special session of the Iowa Legislature. Lawmakers will consider the first round of proposed new maps for the state’s decennial redistricting process.

Here is a look at what to expect from this special session.


The Iowa Legislature will convene this Tuesday, Oct. 5, at the Iowa Capitol. Lawmakers are scheduled to begin their work day at 10 a.m. A committee meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m.


State lawmakers must consider and vote on the first set of proposed new maps for Iowa’s political boundaries. This is a part of the state’s decennial redistricting process. Every 10 years, states across the country redraw their political maps to reflect changes in their populations.


Iowa’s redistricting process is widely hailed — both from within the state’s borders and beyond — for its nonpartisan nature. In other states, lawmakers create the new maps and then vote on them. That creates the ability for lawmakers to draw new political boundaries that serve their own political interests, rather than creating maps that are politically and demographically fair.

In Iowa, the maps are drawn and proposed by the Legislative Services Agency, a state department of nonpartisan legal and fiscal analysts. State law requires the maps to be drawn using population and demographic data and without any consideration for potential political impacts. Once LSA draws the maps, lawmakers vote on whether to accept them.

The entire process has three stages, if needed. A first set of maps is proposed, and lawmakers vote the entire set of maps — for statehouse and Congressional districts — up or down. If they approve that first set of maps, those boundaries go into effect for the next 10 years, starting with the next year’s statewide elections. (In this case, next November’s midterm elections.)

If lawmakers reject the first maps, the process resets and LSA proposes another set of maps. Lawmakers again vote on those maps.

If lawmakers also reject the second maps, the process goes to a third stage. Lawmakers must accept those final maps, but they also have the ability to make their own amendments to the boundaries. This is where Iowa’s process could, theoretically, become partisan — especially if one political party pulls all the levers of state government, as Republicans currently do.


Normally the redistricting process takes place during a normal legislative session, which in Iowa runs from January through roughly April or May. But this year’s redistricting process was delayed across the country because federal census results were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Iowa lawmakers had to get special clearance from the Iowa Supreme Court to continue with the usual redistricting process because the delay in census data pushed the process past a deadline established in the Iowa Constitution.


It’s anybody’s guess. If the Republican majorities in the Iowa House and Senate have decided they plan to veto this first set of maps, it may not take very long at all. It should not take more than one day’s worth of work, and both House Speaker Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver have said they hope for a brief session. But there is no guarantee. If lawmakers are deadlocked on whether to approve the maps, or if members convince their leaders to also consider other, unrelated legislation, the special session could take longer.

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