On April 26, the data from the 2020 census was released, and it showed a shift of some seats in the House of Representatives, according to NPR.
According to NPR, California, West Virginia, Michigan, New York, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania lost one seat each. Those seats were divided so that Florida, North Carolina, Oregon, Colorado and Montana each gained one and Texas gained two.
This is the first time in its history as a U.S. state that California has lost a seat, according to Reuters.
There are 435 seats in the House of Representatives and they are apportioned to the states based on population. As the population shifts each decade the assignment of seats can change, with growing states gaining House members as shrinking states losing them, according to USA Today.
Ron Jarmin, acting director of the Census Bureau, announced the changes at a virtual conference. The decisions were made by narrow margins this year; Kristin Koslap, a senior technical expert in the Bureau, explained that New York would have kept its seat if the state had just 89 more people, but according to NPR, that last seat went to Minnesota.
The coronavirus pandemic and intervention during the census process by former president Donald Trump led to the results being delayed. They would have been released by the end of 2020, but according to NPR, there were already warnings of late results in April, so lawmakers voted to extend the deadline.
The census is constitutionally mandated to take place every decade, this one being the 24th in U.S. history. Only the data pertaining to generic state numbers have been released; the demographic data about people and regions are still being processed, and the Bureau plans to begin releasing it by August 16. However, according to NPR, lawsuits from Alabama and Ohio are trying to force an earlier deadline, and a change that Alabama is also suing for could end up delaying the results by months.
Since 1940, 84 House seats have shifted towards the South and West of the United States and the new census results continue that trend. They also call into question whether Democrats can maintain their narrow majority in the House of Representatives in the 2022 elections. The Democrats have only 218 seats to the Republicans’ 212, and the states that lost House members were mostly Democratic-leaning, while those that gained House members were largely Republican-leaning, according to USA Today.
Michael Li, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, said that the results represent a “political power shift from one region of the country to the other.” He also says that the shifted seats could lead to a political battle over gerrymandering, which is when district lines are redrawn to favor a certain party or to suppress voters from communities of color. Li cited Texas, Florida, and North Carolina as places where redistricting was especially partisan and said that Republicans could aggressively gerrymander in such a way that it led them to a win in the 2022 midterm elections, according to USA Today.
One worry is that in Texas, whose population growth and extra seats are largely due to the growing Latino population, Republican leaders may draw the districts in a way that will limit the voting power of the Latino population and other communities of color. Li said that redistricting would be “a continuation of the war on voting, on steroids, because you can do a lot of things in redistricting to tamp down the power of growing communities of color… because people see political risk.”
One way to combat the possibility of this gerrymandering is the For the People Act, a bill that would require redistricting to be independent among other measures protecting voting rights. The House passed the bill in March along party lines, with all but one Democrat voting in favor and all Republicans voting against, and it now faces a challenge in the Senate, according to USA Today.
The census also reported that the population of the country grew only 7.4% in the last decade, the smallest growth since the Great Depression in the 1930s. Reasons for this, according to Reuters, include declining birth rates and the immigration policies of the Trump administration keeping out many new immigrants.