Editorial: Electoral districts proposal may backfire


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Concern over representation on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors has led some locals to collect signatures for a petition that would call for a referendum dividing Johnson County into electoral districts for supervisors. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors currently has five members, all of whom are elected countywide.

The Committee for Fair Representation is circulating a petition that would hold a referendum on Aug. 6, providing voters with three options: no change in the supervisor-election process; require residing in a given district with county-wide election; or have each district elect a representative that lives within it.

Roger Anderson, a member of the committee and the Johnson County Republicans Central Committee, said the district proposal would provide better representation for residents outside the Iowa City area, pointing out that four members of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors live in Iowa City and only Republican John Etheredge (Kalona) does not.

While we sympathize with the intentions of this proposal, we believe the idea may very well sabotage its proponents’ intentions.

According to the Iowa Code, Johnson County would be split into five districts of equal population with a variation of 1 percent, and all land in a district must be contiguous.

Because the population of Johnson County in the 2010 census was 130,882, that means each district would have approximately 26,176 residents plus or minus 262 people. Coralville would have 72 percent of a district, Iowa City would make up 2.6 districts, and North Liberty would be about 51 percent of a district. This essentially means that every single district would have a primarily urban population, largely defeating the purpose of redistricting.

Rural Johnson County’s voice will only be further drowned out as cities continue growing. World Poole & Economics projected that by 2040, the population of Johnson County would be more than 200,000.

An analysis of Iowa’s population since 1910 from Iowa State University reported that “Metro areas have gained population every decade since 1910. … Rural areas have lost people every decade since 1920.”

Janelle Rettig, the head of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, said the proposal would make the supervisors even more focused on urban interests.

“This guarantees the board will always be urban. … If I only represented Iowa City people, I’d have a completely different opinion on who pays what. I represent the people I’m paid to represent.”

Every supervisor currently must be concerned about the entire county to win re-election. If the county were divided into districts, Rettig said, it would make supervisors concerned primarily with their own districts instead of doing what’s best for the entire county.

Linn County recently switched to a district system for its supervisors and created one that covered much of the county’s rural area.

Lu Barron, the vice chairwoman of the Linn County Board of Supervisors said it didn’t work out as well as people initially thought, though the board has found a way to make it work.

“Be careful what you wish for,” she said. “Just like in Johnson County now, folks out in the rural area felt they didn’t have representation. We tried to tell them that even if we go from three to five districts, there’s no guarantee you’ll have someone from the rural area.”

The redistricting process, Barron said, also made decision-making less efficient and cut her off from the county as a whole.

“When I used to represent everyone from the county, I made it out to every meeting, went to every city council meeting at least once a year, made a point to drive the roads. I always had that connection. Now that my district is all within Cedar Rapids, I don’t have those connections anymore,” she said.

It’s clear that the best interests of Johnson County’s rural residents do not lie in creating districts for the supervisors. We admire the attempt to achieve fairness through redistricting, but it doesn’t work mathematically and would worsen representation for rural voters.

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