Every 10 years, Iowa does something impressive. It redraws its political maps using a system that avoids the partisan scrambling and rancor that inevitably erupt in Nebraska at redistricting time. Iowa’s general approach, in use since 1981, is one that Nebraska should give serious consideration as lawmakers look at how they draw lines. Under the Iowa system, the legislature’s nonpartisan staff use general, legislative-directed parameters to draw redistricting maps that then go before the state’s lawmakers for approval. The response from Iowa’s elected leaders has been quite positive, regardless of party. The votes in 2011 were striking. The Iowa House, in a display of bipartisan consensus, approved the new maps 90-7. The Iowa Senate said “yes” with a vote of 48-1. The maps received a thumb’s up from Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, who praised them for encouraging a healthy competitiveness between the two parties.
In Nebraska, a worthwhile proposal has been introduced this session for an independent commission to draw Nebraska’s redistricting maps. The final decision on the maps would rest with the Legislature.
About 21 states use some form of a commission to draw their district lines, although some states have made themselves vulnerable to legal action by taking their legislatures out of final approval.
The Nebraska proposal, Legislative Bill 580, provides a worthwhile starting point for further discussion and refinement. The Legislature’s Executive Board has held a hearing on the bill, and tweaking of the measure is expected this session and perhaps into the 2016 session.