The Iowa City Council will meet in a special session Tuesday to discuss three proposed maps that will determine where residents vote for the next decade ahead of a fast-approaching deadline.
The City Council has until Jan. 3 to choose between three precinct maps drafted by the Johnson County Auditor's Office and will meet at 8 a.m. Tuesday in a special work session. The council will also have to hold a public hearing, which is set for Dec. 14 at its formal meeting, and vote on the maps up to three times.
Precincts are boundaries drawn throughout the city that determine where people vote. Typically, the precincts group people together based what will appear on their ballot when it comes to city, school, state and federal candidates.
Iowa City Attorney Eric Goers told the City Council on Nov. 30 that the timeline is tighter this year compared to 10 years ago because the U.S. Census was delayed largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This delay also affected congressional and state legislative redistricting, which wasn't signed into law by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds until Nov. 4.
While the public does not have ultimate authority to approve the maps — a power that lies with the City Council — the city is required to give 7-10 days for residents to comment in person or in writing.
Goers said the city can collapse the second and third consideration of the ordinance to save time and make sure it meets the Jan. 3 deadline. He said the City Council could also set special meetings ahead of Jan. 3 to hold the second and third consideration of the ordinance.
"I know it is not the custom and practice of this council to (collapse the readings), but it seems like if we're going to do something like that this would be the time to do it because we're up against such a tight time frame," he said. "This only happens once every 10 years so I don't think this opens Pandora's box as far as doing it on a regular basis."
After the maps are approved by the City Council, they would be sent to the Iowa Secretary of State to be signed off on.
Iowa City will get 3 new precincts; council will choose between 3 maps
The biggest change between the last decade and the new precinct map will be the addition of three new precincts, increasing the total from 24 to 27. That would account for population growth and keep the total population of the precincts between 2,400 and 3,000. No voting precinct is allowed to have more than 3,500 people.
"We want to stay well below that, of course, for voting efficiency so that people don't encounter lines when they're going to their polling place to vote," Goers said.
Iowa City voting precincts and district news (thread):
We just got our first look at what the new Iowa City Council districts could look like under one of the three proposed plans. I've mapped out here where the councilors will live under this new map: pic.twitter.com/c661I8wFay
— George Shillcock (@ShillcockGeorge) December 2, 2021
In addition to determining voting precincts, the City Council will approve the boundaries for the three council districts currently represented by Pauline Taylor (District A), Susan Mims (B) and John Thomas (C).
Shawn Harmsen will be the next representative of District B after winning the seat in an uncontested race last month when Mims decided not to seek reelection.
The three district maps that have been proposed to Iowa City Council do not pit any of the three district representatives against each other based off of where they live.
This district map, called Plan C, was published in the Thursday information packet on the city's website. Plan A and B were released Monday morning on the Johnson County Auditor's 2022 reprecincting website.
The difference in the three precinct maps comes down to what factors determined the boundaries. Plan C, which Iowa City requested be made, focused on population, voting efficiency and population growth over the next decade, according to Goers.
Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said Plan A took into account convenience, tighter lines, if there are ADA-accessible voting sites within the boundaries, population and voting turnout trends.
Kistler, who works in the real estate department and helped craft Plan B, said it is based on where current polling places are and where new polling places can be for the three new precincts.
Iowa City staff prefer Plan C but caution council to keep an open mind
At the Nov. 30 City Council work session, Goers said Plan C is the preferred map of city staff.
"We decided revised Plan C looked best to us, again because of the balance of the population between the precincts," he said.
Goers said Plan C also closely tracks with the districts that were in effect for the last decade.
Councilor Thomas pointed out that the City Council does not have to approve the map that city staff recommends and could consider the other two that Johnson County drew up.
The county has not recommended a map and Weipert said Nov. 30 that if the City Council does not vote on any of the maps that are proposed, his office is happy to draw more.
In a memo written to the City Council, Goers also outlined the criteria it is allowed to consider when voting on the map. Goers also asked the council to not make any final decisions on Tuesday and keep an open mind until the public hearing at the Dec. 14 meeting is concluded.
When considering the maps, councilors are not to give consideration to the addresses of incumbent officeholders, political affiliations of registered voters, previous election results or demographic information other than population headcounts.
The laws that determine how the districts are drawn are governed by Iowa Code Chapter 49.3 Election precincts and districts.
George Shillcock is the Press-Citizen's local government and development reporter covering Iowa City and Johnson County. He can be reached at GShillcock@press-citizen.com and on Twitter @ShillcockGeorge
This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: Iowa City Council to vote on new voting precincts and districts