The Iowa City Council met Tuesday with the Johnson County Auditor's Office and narrowed down the number of new voting precinct maps it will consider next week from three to two.
The two maps, Plans A and C, were chosen after all seven councilors asked County Auditor Travis Weipert and his staff about how each was made and about factors that affect how and where people will vote in Iowa City for the next decade. The City Council directed city staff to draft resolutions for the two plans, and not Plan B, for its next meeting on Dec. 14, which also includes a chance for the public to speak.
Weipert and Deputy Auditor Mark Kistler reiterated that they are on a tight deadline to approve precinct and City Council district boundaries that determine where people vote for the next 10 years. The deadline of Jan. 3 was determined after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed new state legislative districts into law on Nov. 4.
Weipert's office was asked by city staff to craft the three maps because of its experience working with Geographic Information Systems. Each map for Iowa City and other Johnson County communities are posted on the auditor's website,
"I think all three are just as good as the other or the next plan. It basically comes down to what the council wants," Weipert said.
If the council does not make a decision at the Dec. 14 meeting, or has revisions that it would like to be made to the map, additional special meetings could be scheduled throughout the next month.
Once approved, the precincts would be in effect starting Jan. 15 for the next election. Weipert and his staff said voters will be alerted to the changes by being issued new voter ID cards in the mail.
Under all three plans, Iowa City will be adding three new precincts, largely due to population growth in the past decade that puts the current precincts at risk of going over a 3,500 person-per-district limit.
In Plan A, the highest population precinct is D5 at 3,388 people, but not much growth is expected to occur there because it contains some of the dorms and buildings on the University of Iowa's campus. Plan C's highest population precinct is D20, which contains parts of downtown Iowa City and the northside neighborhood, with 2,968 people.
"The idea was to keep them all under 3,000," Kistler said. "They are not truly balanced, because in some cases you have a smaller number because you don't have as much of an area to distribute the population on."
Keeping the population of each precinct low is intended to prevent lines of voters on Election Day, Weipert said.
Typically, the precincts group people together based on the municipality they live in and what will appear on their ballot when it comes to city, school, state and federal candidates.
Weipert told the Press-Citizen after Tuesday's meeting that each city in Johnson County is working hard to meet the deadline to approve new precincts that is now less than a month away.
With Iowa City's three new precincts, the auditor's office will have to find three new polling places that are ADA-compliant and have adequate parking spaces.
This could make some precincts share a polling place in the same building. Weipert said portions of East Lucas Township could also share a polling place with Iowa City voters.
One polling place Weipert said he is excited to add is the Kingdom Center Hall in Iowa City's South District, which has been used as a satellite voting location in the past.
"It will allow that neighborhood to finally have a precinct where a lot of folks can walk to," he said.
As for the locations of the three new precincts, new polling places could be added on the east end of the city, the southeast corner of town and in the west. Kistler said they could use Robert Lucas and Hoover Elementary schools as a new location or double up West High as a polling place for two precincts,
Weipert said a majority of the precincts will remain the same, but some adjustments could be made for the new precincts.
Councilor Janice Weiner, who worked as a poll worker in North Liberty in the last election, said she was worried the Iowa Legislature will continue to make it harder for people to vote and asked what populations would be impacted by the new precincts.
Weipert said Plan A could make for less confusion for UI students on where they vote. He said precincts 3 and 5 in this plan are larger and put dorms together.
Kistler said Plan A leaves more room for growth around the fringes of city limits, where a lot of population is expected to be added in the next 10 years, unlike near the city center, where population growth is more limited and predictable.
The council largely didn't discuss how the new City Council district maps factor into its decision and focused on the concepts for new precincts. The city has three districts — called A, B and C — that three councilors represent, but the entire city population votes for.
Kistler said all three maps tried to account for how the current districts look as closely as possible.
None of the three proposed district maps would have combined the current or newly elected district councilors into the same district, a possibility that was considered in Des Moines before the city stopped considering a map that would do so.
Mayor Bruce Teague did point out that a review of the city's charter is coming up in 2024 and the city could debate increasing the number of City Council districts then.
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 faces tight deadline to approve new voting precincts