Smaller Delegations, Less Clout: States Brace For Census Report

  • Rhode Island, with two seats, could see its delegation halved
  • Pennsylvania on track to extend its nine-cycle losing streak

States will soon learn if they’re going to gain or lose ground in the House of Representatives and in presidential elections.

By the end of next week, the U.S. Census Bureau will release the first official results of the 2020 Census: the state population counts that will redistribute the 435 House seats, and lock in that configuration for the next five congressional elections, from 2022 to 2030.

“It’s basically allocating how many voices you have in Congress. The more voices you have, the more potential sway your state has,” Kimball W. Brace, the president of Election Data Services Inc., said in an interview.

Because the House membership is fixed by law, states with above-average population growth will win House seats — and gain more clout in Congress — at the expense of states that were slower-growing or losing population.

Projections show that states in the South and West will once again gain seats, and the Northeast and industrial Midwest will continue its decades-long contraction.

It’s clear from smaller-scale Census surveys that the biggest winners will be Texas and Florida, which are on track to gain multiple seats after reapportionment.

Among the biggest losers will be New York, which will still have dozens of voices in Congress though its 27-member House delegation will shrink either by one or two.

New York’s fate depends in part on how many people the 2020 Census counted in Alabama.

Under the arcane formula that governs reapportionment, after every state is given one district, each state and district number is assigned a “priority value” and those with the highest scores get the seats. Under an analysis by Election Data Services, New York’s 26th District is projected to end up just ahead of Alabama’s 7th District. If Alabama scores high enough, it’ll keep all its seats and could make New York a two-seat loser.

New York has lost at least two seats in every reapportionment since 1950.

One or Two

Faster-growing Montana could win a second district, while Rhode Island is in danger of falling to one district from its current two. Rhode Island has had at least two districts in every reapportionment since the 1790 Census.

California, with the largest House delegation at 53 seats, is projected to lose one for the first time after experiencing a slowing in the breakneck population growth that’s characterized most of its history. Pennsylvania is expected to lose ground in the House for the 10th consecutive decade, while Ohio surely will receive a smaller allotment of House seats for the sixth straight reapportionment.

“There’s a number of different states that are paying close attention to what happens next week,” Brace said.

Reapportionment also has implications for the 2024 and 2028 presidential elections because a state’s Electoral College vote is the sum of its House seats, plus its two Senate seats.

The Census Bureau will release more detailed data by Sept. 30 that will allow states to redraw congressional boundary lines before the 2022 election. The pandemic created months-long delays in the tabulation and release of reapportionment and redistricting data.

With assistance from Adam Schank

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

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