Linn supervisors vote to draw their own districts

Gazette, The (Cedar Rapids-Iowa City, IA) - Friday, November 11, 2011
Author: By Steve Gravelle, The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS -- To avoid political manipulation, Iowa law goes to great lengths to ensure that local government officials don't have a direct hand in drawing their own districts. 

Linn County supervisors voted Thursday to do just that -- their latest move in a feud with Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz and his staff. 

On Oct. 12, Schultz's staff notified supervisors that they were rejecting the map that had been drawn by the county's redistricting commission and approved unanimously by both the commission and the supervisors. The rejection cited a state law that requires cities to be divided into the fewest possible supervisor districts -- three, in Cedar Rapids' case, instead of the four on the proposed map. 

The staff subsequently rejected supervisors' re-submission of the initial map, with an ultimatum: Submit a new map meeting the fewest-district standard, adopt a plan drawn by the Legislative Services Agency that does the same thing, or do nothing and have a new map imposed by Schultz on Dec. 1. 

As a protest against Schultz's ruling, redistricting commissioners voted Tuesday to resubmit their original map to county supervisors. That second submission of a plan already rejected by the state gives supervisors the power under state law to draw their own map. 

"I appreciate the commission's work," said Supervisor Brent Oleson, R-Marion. "I think that map serves Linn County well, both rural and urban." 

Working under the restrictions imposed by Schultz leaves the county with three Cedar Rapids districts, a fourth covering Marion and nearby rural precincts, and a big "doughnut" encompassing the rest of the county. The distribution of county population in the 2010 Census leaves little room for variation. 

Supervisor John Harris, R-Palo, who likely will live in the new doughnut district, raised the possibility of simply adopting the LSA map. 

"How many experts do we need to tell us that when you divide Cedar Rapids into three districts you will always have the doughnut?" he asked. 

But Oleson said he's not willing to take a chance on Schultz imposing an even uglier map, and Harris joined the supervisors' unanimous vote to draw their own plan. 

The supervisors and Assistant County Attorney Gary Jarvis both question Schultz's interpretation of the redistricting law, but Jarvis said there's little they can do about it. A court challenge would have to prove that Schultz acted in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner, Jarvis noted -- a very tough standard. 

"The Legislature has delegated the administration of the election law to the secretary of state," Jarvis said. 

Supervisors instructed county elections staff to draw up some alternate maps meeting Schultz's standard for review next week.