The Census Bureau has released the full results of the latest national head count, and seven congressional seats are getting shuffled. But the states are up against the clock; redistricting deadlines ahead of the 2022 midterms draw nigh. As states race to redraw the district lines, another question arises: With residents fleeing Democrat strongholds and heading for red states, will redistricting stack the deck in favor of the GOP or leave conservatives longing for the good old days of the 2010 Census?
Time’s Running Out
All 50 states will use the Census data to redraw congressional districts eventually – some this year and others later – but only 13 will see a different number of representatives in the House for the entire state because of it. California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia all lose one seat in Congress while Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon each gain one. Texas picks up two.
The deadline in Colorado is September 1, meaning state officials only have a couple of weeks to get the job done. New York has until September 15, and Ohio is due by September 30. From there, the belt loosens a bit. The next deadlines are November 1 for Michigan, the 13th for Texas, and the 29th for Illinois. California, Montana, and North Carolina are all due in December. West Virginia and Pennsylvania do not have redistricting deadlines set in stone by their constitutions or state laws, but the filing deadlines for candidates hoping to run in 2022 impose a sort of deadline all their own. West Virginia has until January and Pennsylvania could stretch it out as far as March.
That Magic Number
There are 435 members of the House of Representatives, and that upper limit hasn’t changed in more than a century. But why? It turns out there’s nothing magical about that number. The first Congress had 65 representatives. That increased to 105 after the 1790 Census and then to 142 after 1800. As the population expanded, so did the House of Representatives, and that merry band of legislators totaled 435 by 1913. You may be wondering why a nation of 331 million has no more representatives than it did at 97 million – why don’t we have three times as many now? That would be the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929, which locked the size of the House at the current 435.
Since the Constitution requires each state to have at least one representative, but no more than one for every 30,000 citizens, the seats in the House must follow the population as people move from one state to another. These days, the average House member represents about 710,000 people, and many argue it’s time to add new positions again.
Redistricting certainly has the potential to affect election outcomes, from the local level all the way up to presidential. Since each state gets as many presidential electors as it has senators and representatives, when House seats are lost, electoral votes go with them. Of the seven states losing a seat, all but two – Ohio and West Virginia – backed Biden in 2020. Of the six receiving those, all but two – Colorado and Pennsylvania – chose Trump.
Does this spell doom for the Democrats in 2024 and 2028 – as well as the midterms in between? It might – but it might not. Whether you believe the 2020 election was a fluke or a progressive mandate by the voters, and regardless of whether it was legitimately won or a fraud, the final electoral count wasn’t even close. Sure, it was a close one in some swing states, but it only takes a slim majority to send all of a state’s electoral votes to one side or the other, and the 2020 contest came out to a difference of 74 electors. We’re talking seven in this shuffle; even if the Census took place a year or two earlier, these same results wouldn’t have made a difference in who occupies the White House today.
That California will back the Democrat, whoever that may be, in 2024 and 2028 seems a foregone conclusion, and the Golden State would have to lose quite a few electors to no longer enjoy the biggest share. Many of those who left California headed to Texas – and mostly to metropolitan areas like Austin. With its 38 electoral votes, Texas only barely backed Trump. While the vast majority of counties came in red, those containing massive urban areas, like Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas, were solid blue. In a traditionally Republican state, the GOP only came out ahead by a little over 5% of the vote. This purpling of the Lone Star State has been going on for a while now, and the Census data also shows that nearly all the population growth nationwide was in cities and that around half the nation’s counties have fewer people now than in 2010.
New York was the third largest state in elector count – but now Florida has taken that spot. Florida’s electoral map in 2020 looked a lot like that of Texas, however. The rural folk – who make up the vast majority of counties – voted Trump. But just a handful of urbanized counties was enough to bring the state within 3.3% of a Biden win.
Don’t Californicate Oregon was once the slogan of a largely conservative state – and just look at it now. The same motto has been adopted by Texas Republicans, but, as in Oregon, the damage may already be done – just as it may be in Florida. If those who fled the leftist-controlled states were conservatives who just couldn’t take it anymore, then yes, this is bad news for Democrats. But if it was mostly liberals fleeing the consequences of their own electoral actions, it could well be the GOP that’s doomed.
Read more from James Fite.