Census: California, Northeast, Midwest lose House seats

Rhode Island avoids at-large status; New York loses a seat by 89 people

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Posted April 26, 2021 at 4:01pm, Updated at 6:24pm

California, along with states in the Northeast and Midwest, will lose out on political representation for the next decade after apportionment results announced Monday showed House seats shifting to the South and other parts of the West.

The once-a-decade reshuffling of the 435 House seats will give six states more representation at the expense of seven states on a razor-thin margin. According to the population totals released Monday, Texas gains two seats, while Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Montana and Oregon each gain one. California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia each lose one.

New York lost its 27th seat to Minnesota — by 89 people. Rhode Island, which was expected to lose one of its two seats, hung on to both for another decade.

The Census Bureau’s results come about four months later than planned, after the pandemic, natural disasters and decisions by the Trump administration hampered the count and its processing. The agency plans to release the next wave of census results — detailed data used for redistricting — in August.

“Census takers have a hard job to begin with, and trying to count people during a global pandemic made it even more challenging,” acting Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin said at a news conference announcing the results.

Overall, the country grew to 331 million people, a 7.4 percent increase from the 2010 census. The average House seat will represent 761,169 people, up from 710,767 following the 2010 count.

Historic losses

Monday’s data release will mean California, the nation’s largest state, loses a seat for the first time in its history, going from 53 to 52.

The state spent more than $180 million on a campaign to turn out the count, co-chaired by then-California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who has since replaced fellow Democrat Kamala Harris in the Senate. The effort dwarfed other state-funded campaigns across the country. It enlisted hundreds of paid staff, through grants to local organizations, and thousands of volunteers.

California partnered with the Census Bureau and national organizations like the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, as well as local chambers of commerce and housing advocates. On top of that, the state launched lawsuits against the Trump administration for attempting to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census and for attempting to cut in-person counting efforts short last year.

New York, meanwhile, lost its 27th seat by a historically small margin. The state and New York City spent more than $60 million to bolster its 2020 count. The state’s shortfall — 89 people — is the smallest since 1940, when the nation adopted its current apportionment method.

The previous closest margin came following the 1970 census, when Oregon lost out on a fifth seat by 231 people.

New York’s seat goes to Minnesota, which will keep its eight seats after some organizations expected it to lose one. Cindy Rugeley, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said the state likely benefited from the highest census self-response rate in the country, at more than 75 percent.

Census officials regard self-response as the most accurate method of counting people. New York had a below-average rate of 64.2 percent.

The loss of three seats in the Midwest follows the loss of six from the region in 2010, while the loss of two seats in the Northeast comes after that region lost five in 2010. States with losses in both decades were Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. States in the South, meanwhile, pick up a net of three seats after netting seven a decade ago, while those in the West have a net gain of two after picking up four a decade ago. Florida and Texas are the only states to add seats at least two decades in a row.

Projections and reality

Monday’s apportionment results ended up moving fewer congressional seats than many expected. Several projections saw Texas gaining as many as three seats and Florida adding two.

On the other end were potential losses for Rhode Island, Minnesota and Alabama that failed to materialize.

Karen Battle, the population division chief at the Census Bureau, said during Monday’s news conference that the count for Texas and Florida, in particular, fell short of their population estimates for 2020, but still within 1 percent of the estimate.

Adam Kincaid, executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, pointed out in a separate news conference that the apportionment results don’t really shift which party will have control over new districts. Republicans still control mapmaking for the majority of partisan-drawn maps in the country.

“It’s a wash as far as redistricting control is concerned,” Kincaid told reporters. “It is really a lot of changes on the margins.”

The Census Bureau on Monday also released a series of metrics laying out how it counted people across the country. Numerous outside experts, including Robert Santos, President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the bureau, called on the agency to provide more information about the process.

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However, the Census Bureau has resisted calls to provide that information for smaller areas, saying it could endanger respondents’ privacy. The agency has also faced concerns about how it handled the count of college students on and off campus around the country — millions of whom went home at the height of the pandemic last year.

The Supreme Court has generally sided with the Census Bureau in decisions about how to count people, but legal experts have wondered whether that will hold following a historically troubled census.

The Census Bureau last year missed its statutory Dec. 31 deadline for apportionment results for the first time. On top of that, the agency said it may not deliver the detailed data needed for redistricting until the end of September.

The delays in the data distribution started in March 2020, as the agency suspended many in-person counting efforts due to the coronavirus pandemic. The agency restarted those efforts over the summer but was then hampered by a record wildfire and hurricane season.

After ending the in-person operations in October, the Census Bureau found issues with hundreds of thousands of records, which it said could take months to fix. On top of that, the agency had to figure out how to count millions of people across the country who had relocated amid the pandemic.

In addition to the apportionment of House seats, census results are used to draw legislative districts and guide more than $1.5 trillion in federal spending annually.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in both chambers introduced a bill earlier this month to extend the agency’s deadlines, providing legal cover for the Biden administration plan to deliver final census results as late as September. Ohio and Alabama launched separate federal court cases to force early release of the data, both of which are still pending.