DemDaily: Census Reshuffles Congress

April 28, 2021

The first numbers from the 2020 US Census report were released on Monday, including the apportionment population counts that determine the new breakdown of the 435 US House seats among the 50 states.

As required by the United States Constitution, the US Census is the decennial (every ten years) count of persons dwelling in US residential structures. They include citizens, non-citizen legal residents, non-citizen long-term visitors and undocumented immigrants, as well as US military and federal employees serving overseas.

Based on the counts, seven US House seats will shift among 13 states, drawing predominantly from the Midwest and northeast with a shift in the power of representation to the south and west.

(Justin Sullivan/Getty)

While the figures launch the redistricting process, whereby states and local governments redraw their congressional and legislative district boundaries, states cannot formulate their plans until a second "census block" level of data is released, anticipated by August 16th.

Why It Is Important
An accurate census count is important because it is the key to political and economic empowerment for every community across the United States.

The recorded census numbers are used to redraw or "redistrict" proportionate congressional districts, which affects the geographic and political makeup of Congress for the next ten years, including the number of seats and electoral college votes each state is allocated.Chart of new congressional seat counts following 2020 census

An accurate count is essential to not only ensuring fair representation, but in allocating roughly $1.5 trillion in federal funds for Medicare, Medicaid, education and other public services for local communities.

The Delay
The coronavirus pandemic had already upended the normal timeframe for delivery of the decennial census data, which, by statute, was due by December 31st of 2020, but was extended finally to April 30, 2021.

COVID only further exacerbated actions already initiated by the Trump administration to weaponize the normally nonpartisan, data-driven process to the advantage of his party and his policies.

Most notable was the administration's attempt to intimidate undocumented immigrants in the count by trying to add a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, claiming it was needed to address suspected voter discrimination and to enforce voting rights.

Subsequent efforts by Trump to exclude "aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status" were blocked by federal courts as "an unlawful exercise of the authority." The US Supreme Court agreed.

Among the first orders signed by President Biden on his first day in office was to reverse the ills of the Trump administration, "Ensuring a Lawful and Accurate Enumeration and Apportionment Pursuant to the Decennial Census."

US Census New Congressional Seats Map

(Source: US Census)

While Biden's directive shut down the last vestiges of Trump's attempts to manipulate the census for political gain, the former administration's actions call into question the integrity of the collection process and are likely to prompt future lawsuits over the outcome.

The Shift
Based on the Census numbers reported this week:
* One state will gain two seats: Texas
* Five states will gain one seat: Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon
* Seven states will lose one seat: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia

California, Texas, Florida, and New York still maintain the largest number of representatives, while six states - Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming -  still have only one representative each.

New York, which peaked at 45 members in the 1940s, lost one seat bringing its total to 26. Alternatively, Montana is regaining a second seat for the first time since 1990.

Re-Routing Redistricting
The delay in the redistricting process has had the ripple effect of leaving 2022 candidates and incumbents in limbo as to if or where they will be running less than a year before their primaries.

Two states, New Jersey and Virginia, will hold legislative races in 2021, with primaries scheduled for June 8, before the redistricting data will be available.

Population count from 2020 Census: Over 331 million people

An increase of 7.4% since 2010. The South grew the most, by 10.2%, followed by western states by 9.2%. The Northeast grew by 4.1% and the Midwest by 3.1%

New Jersey voters approved a constitutional amendment to leave the existing lines in place for 2021, but in Virginia, some candidates may find themselves voting on redrawn maps of their own districts just as they are making their final appeal to voters in November.

Each state has its own process and timeline for redistricting once the data is received, and classification of state systems vary across sources. In roughly 35 states the legislature plays the dominant role in congressional redistricting, while in others it is a commission, committee or hybrid of the legislature and a committee that draws the lines.

In 31 states the plan is subject to gubernatorial veto, which may be overridden by a super or simple majority vote in eight. In the states that comprise one congressional district each, redistricting is unnecessary.

Most are now scrambling to draw preliminary maps and garner public input as they prepare for the next data drop.

DemList will keep you informed.

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Kimberly Scott


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Sources: Census Bureau, Brennan Center, NPR, Virginia Mercury, Ballotpedia, ABC

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