WASHINGTON — After months of delays, the U.S. Census Bureau on Monday gave states part of the critical data needed to redraw their U.S. House boundaries: an updated tally of how many people live within their borders, and the number of House districts that each state will have for the next decade.
Minnesotans — especially politicos who’ve been awaiting the news for months — breathed a sigh of relief, as the North Star State will retain its eight congressional districts, earning the 435th seat in Congress by beating out New York state by a mere 89 people.
The news from the 2020 Census count came as a surprise. Minnesota has long been projected to lose a seat due to its slow-growing population. Dropping from eight to seven congressional seats would have diminished Minnesota’s political clout and likely reduced federal spending here going forward.
“I want to thank Minnesotans for their nation-leading civic engagement, which made us the number one state in responding to the census,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement. “Because of that participation, we will be fully represented in Washington and will have access to federal resources we need to improve our infrastructure, fund our schools and support our health care system.”
Peter Wattson, a former Minnesota Senate counsel who is now in litigation to kickstart Minnesota’s redistricting process, said in an email that he’d be surprised if New York does not sue the federal government to take the seat from Minnesota. States that narrowly lost congressional districts in the census of 1990 and 2000 both sued, he said.
Minnesotans reveled in the census victory on Twitter, calling it revenge for countless baseball playoff losses to the New York Yankees, and evidence of a peculiarly Minnesotan flair for filling out paperwork. (Minnesota is known for an aggressive and effective census effort to get everyone counted.)
Never try and defeat Minnesota in a paperwork contest.
— Joe (y) Davis (@doeyjavis) April 26, 2021
New York was also surpassed in population by Florida, which is now the third-largest state. Fast-growing Texas will add two seats, and in addition to Florida, four states will each add one seat: North Carolina, Colorado, Montana and Oregon.
Other states, especially in colder climates, were less fortunate. Seven states lost one seat each: Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all lost seats. And for the first time in history, California lost a congressional district.
Minnesota’s population increased 7.6% — the 19th-fastest growth rate, just above the national average — or about 402,000 more people than the 2010 count. Minnesota is the 22nd-most populous state. Utah saw the most significant population growth, at 18.4%, and West Virginia’s population shrank 3.2%.
Known as apportionment, the process of determining how many U.S. representatives each state will get happens when new census counts are finalized every 10 years. Minnesota had 10 House seats in the 1910s and has since lost two.
Minnesota will still go through redistricting, the contentious process of redrawing congressional and state legislative boundaries based on population change in various regions of the state. The new maps will be used for the first time in the 2022 election. The metro and other urban areas are expected to gain representation, while some rural districts will grow larger owing to population loss.
Overall, there were 331,449,281 people living in the U.S. on April 1, 2020, an increase of 7.4% since 2010. That’s the slowest growth in a decade since the 1930s, and the second-slowest growth rate in U.S. history. The population increased 9.7% between 2000 and 2010.
Block-by-block population data, which states need to draw districts of equal population, will be released in a less user-friendly format on Aug. 16, with the fuller version to be sent by Sept. 30, according to the Census Bureau.
The data delay has upended state redistricting timelines, particularly for those with constitutionally set deadlines for when officials must approve new district maps.
It also has wreaked havoc on the 2022 elections, with prospective candidates uncertain whether they’ll still be living within a district’s boundaries.
Typically, the state-level population data released Monday would have been provided by the end of December, but that process was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The census tallies how many people are living in the U.S. on April 1, and last year, that date fell shortly after states had issued lockdown orders aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. That scrambled plans for following up door-to-door with those who did not fill out their census form.
“We advertised on pizza boxes, instead of during basketball games,” said Ron Jarmin, acting director of the Census Bureau. “Our partners joined us in reaching people at food banks and in school cafeterias, instead of promoting the census at county fairs.”
Other Americans became harder to reach due to wildfires and hurricanes. The Trump administration also interfered in the counting process, pursuing policies that some feared would make immigrants less likely to respond and cutting the operation short.
As they announced the new population figures, Census officials defended the accuracy of the counting process, saying the delayed door-to-door follow-ups allowed for more complete responses.
While the final numbers show a slower growth rate than what had been projected, affecting the final allocation of legislative seats, the population numbers for most states were still within 1% of the bureau’s estimates.
Under the new congressional districts, which will go into effect for the 2022 elections, each member of the House will represent an average of 761,000 residents.
The biggest population gains regionally were in the South and the West, with Southern states growing by 10.2% and Western states by 9.2%. The Northeast grew by 4.1%, and Midwestern states showed a 3.1% rise in population.
That followed trends underway since the 1940s, with 84 House seats shifting South and West during that time frame, Census officials said Monday.
Nevada, for example, was among the top five fastest-growing states, with its population of 3.1 million people reflecting a 15% increase compared to 2010.
Six states will have only one legislator in the U.S. House. Montana is no longer among that group, with the 94,810 residents it gained proving enough for it to nab the second-to-last seat.