Once every 10 years the United States holds a census. This event obviously counts the country’s population but the results also affect day-to-day living more than people might think.
In the months leading up to April 1 -- when every home will receive an invitation to participate -- RiverTown Multimedia will dive into what the census means to our communities. These topics will range from how college students are counted to how final count affects national services and programs on the local level, from why certain groups are frequently under counted to what the census will tell us about our communities.
We begin with how census results affect representation in Washington, D.C., and electoral votes.
Currently, Wisconsin has eight members in the House of Representatives. This number is predicted to remain the same post-census. The 2019 estimated population is 5.83 million, compared to 5.36 million counted in the 2010 census.
Minnesota also has eight representatives at the moment. However, organizations such as the Brennan Center predict that the state may lose one seat to a more populous state. The state's 2019 estimated population is 5.66 million, compared to 5.3 million counted in 2010.
The number of representatives per state is determined in process called apportionment. In this system, the 435 House seats are divided among the 50 states. Each state is guaranteed at least one seat. The remaining 385 seats are then distributed based on the priority value of each state. While population size is not the only factor in deciding the spread of House seats, it is important.
After the 2010 census North and South Dakota, with populations of 653,778 and 820,077, respectively, only had one representative each. Texas, meanwhile, had a population of 25.2 million people and 39 representatives. California had the majority of seats with 53 for a population of 37.27 million.
The Census Bureau explains that while the U.S. government does not have a legally mandated way to distribute seats, Congress has relied on the “Method of Equal Proportions” since its adoption in 1941:
“This method assigns seats in the House of Representatives according to a "priority value." The priority value is determined by multiplying the population of a state by a ‘multiplier.’"
The actual math for the multiplier is relatively obscure: 1/√n(n-1)
Here, “n” equals the number of seats that a state would have if it gained another seat.
If Minnesota loses a seat, then the remaining seven districts will become larger because the districts have to be roughly the same size. Redistricting likely would happen after the census anyway because the political party in charge is able to redistrict once every 10 years. Losing a seat, however, could lead to major changes.
For the majority of states, including Minnesota, the legislature creates a proposed map of how districts will be drawn but the governor has the ability to veto the map. Local elections are thus important because districts can, and have, been drawn to favor one party or another. This is done by either trying to create one district that is heavily one party or by trying to divide areas that tend to vote for one party into numerous districts.
The loss of a House seat for a state also results in the loss of one electoral vote. Every state gets the number of House members plus the two senators (currently Minnesota and Wisconsin both have 10 electoral votes). More votes means that a state is more of a priority in presidential elections. This is why Florida, Texas and California are focused on leading up to and the night of a presidential election.
Leaders in both Minnesota and Wisconsin have made it clear that having every citizen counted will be key in maintaining current U.S. House representation.