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June 2013 Policy Study, Number 13-4


Mal-apportionment and the Miracle of Iowa


From "Natural Mal-apportionment" to Gerrymandering



As had been the case with the original thirteen colonies, towns and cities along the coast were advantaged in representation in the legislative bodies when district lines were not redrawn as quickly, if at all, as populations shifted westward. However, during the time Iowa was a territory and during the early period under the Constitutions of 1846 and 1857, the House and Senate were reapportioned every two years until a Gerrymander in 1886 by the dominant Republicans shaped control of the state, with minor modifications, until the post Baker v. Carr era of the 1970s and 80s.[43] Every two years until 1904, the Iowa General Assembly merely re-passed the 1886 apportionment without change, despite the rapidly shifting population within Iowa. The Constitution was amended in 1904 to increase the number of House seats to 108 from 99, by giving the largest nine counties a second Representative.[44] Legislation passed in 1928 specified that no county could be represented by more than one Senator, so representation in both houses was more based on geography than population.[45]


As was the case in many of the states, this inaction on Iowa reapportionment was occurring simultaneously with a vast migration of population off the farms and out of the small towns into the growing urban areas. Mechanization reduced the number of people needed to produce as much, or more, from the land and industrialization created factory jobs concentrated in the cities. This resulted in rural domination of the Iowa General Assembly and agitation by people suffering from mal-apportionment for redress. In 1941 there was a partial reapportionment which only affected five of the Senate’s 50 districts, and in 1953 four additional Senate districts were reapportioned.[46]


In spite of the Colegrove v. Green (1946) case in which the United States Supreme Court declared that mal-apportionment was a “political question” not to be decided by the courts, the Iowa Farm Bureau and its rural allies saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to try to prolong their dominance of the political scene by proposing a Constitutional Amendment which would continue “one county, one Representative” in a smaller 99 member Iowa House, but create a Senate of 58 members based on area — plus population — in hopes of appeasing the restive urban groups. As required in Article X, section 1 of the Iowa Constitution, this amendment (referred to as the Shaff Plan) was introduced and passed in both houses of the Iowa General Assembly in 1961 and again in identical form in 1963 after the intervention of a general election in the fall of 1962. It was sent to the public for ratification in a special election on 3 December 1963, but in response to vigorous opposition from the Democrats, led by their popular Governor Harold Hughes and their labor-union allies, it lost overall, even though it passed in 64 of the 99 counties.[47]




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