NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Iowa's Congressional Election is More Competitive

October 29, 2002

Iowa, which has only five members of the U.S. House of Representatives, has three competitive races, more than any other state. By contrast, California has 53 seats and only one remotely competitive race.

  • In California and other states, legislatures drew new district maps after the 2000 census designed to protect incumbents of both parties.
  • In Georgia, Maryland, Michigan and Pennsylvania, parties in complete control of the remapping process tried to draw districts that helped them gain advantage.
  • Every state used computers to anticipate party voting.

Under Iowa law, a nonpartisan arm of the legislature draws the maps, using computer programs to create compact and contiguous districts that disregard partisanship and incumbency. The Republican-controlled legislature still had to approve it, but amendments were not permitted.

The new lines put two Republican incumbents in the same conservative district, so Rep. Jim Leach moved. A Democratic incumbent, Rep. Leonard L. Boswell was put in the overwhelmingly Republican western district, so he also moved.

Iowa instituted this system in 1981, after getting fed up with lawsuits that led the state Supreme Court to draw the maps.

One advantage to politicians is that the system settles the maps early. By July 2001, parties could start recruiting candidates. Incumbents could find new houses or plan their retirements.

But the process could reduce the clout the state's congressional delegation, say observers, by reducing the seniority of its congressional delegation.

Source: Adam Clymer, "Why Iowa Has So Many Hot Seats," New York Times, October 27, 2002.


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