2020 Census Moves Seven Congressional Seats

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By Doreen Denny, Vice President of Government Relations

Results from the 2020 census were announced this week with significant implications for the 2022 election. Every ten years, the U.S. census triggers an evaluation of how congressional seats are reapportioned among the fifty states. Population shifts over a decade can add to or subtract from the number of congressional districts per state. Based on the 2020 census, seven congressional seats are being reapportioned.

Notable: Seven is more than the margin of difference between the Democrat majority and the Republican minority in the House. The states where these new seats are being added (and subtracted) could flip which political party controls the House of Representatives in 2022.

A little history: The U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1787 before most states were even created, established membership in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative.”

This Article I provision established the principle of tying a congressional delegation to a state’s population. In 1929, the Permanent Apportionment Act was passed and signed into law which capped the number of U.S. House voting members at 435 (the level established after the 1910 Census). It also created the procedure of automatically reapportioning House seats after every decennial census.

Here is the way the seven congressional districts are being reapportioned:

  • Seven states are losing one seat: California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York.
  • Six states are gaining one or more seats: Texas (2), Oregon, Montana, Colorado, North Carolina, Florida

Based on this list of “gainers and losers,” it is not hard to recognize a migration away from Rust Belt and big liberal states. This could advantage a Republican party looking to regain control of the House in the next election. The impact to Congress does not end there. With this reapportionment, states will also undertake drawing new boundaries for congressional districts within the state, based on gains and losses of congressional seats among the states and the regional changes in population within the state.  When we think of redistricting, memories of Civics 101 and the term “gerrymandering” may come to mind.

Redistricting congressional seats is largely the function of state legislatures which gives the party in control the upper hand. Notably, Republicans control a majority of state house and state senate chambers across the country. States vary in their laws about the process of redistricting and the use of commissions engaged in these decisions.

With reapportionment decided, what we know now is seven incumbent members of Congress (yet to be determined) will not have a reelection opportunity in the seven losing states while seven new seats in pick-up states will offer open entry for a new position. Redistricting remains the great unknown with significant implications for many members of Congress. This will dominate state politics and likely several courts in the coming months.

For political pundits, political action committees, and those interested in politics, it’s game time as the battle for drawing new congressional boundaries takes center stage. Stay tuned. Popcorn anyone?