Opinion

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Like I Was Saying

The Cost of an Undercount

Montana could earn a U.S. House seat after the 2020 Census is conducted

The 2020 Census is about a year out, but the campaigning among states to get their citizens to participate has already begun. At stake are both federal dollars and political clout to be determined by the country’s official population count. And many states are already worried.

They have reason to be. Several states, including Montana, are on the cusp of gaining a U.S. House seat and, with it, more tangible power for at least a decade. But if we gain more representation in Washington, D.C., someone has to lose it.

When the Census Bureau released its 2018 state population estimates late last year, they showed Montana fell just short of the number needed to add a seat (currently, our lone Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte represents the entire state). However, Virginia-based Election Data Services projections show that could change by 2020.

If current trends hold, the political consulting firm says Montana will, in fact, earn a seat after the 2020 Census is conducted. We would then vote for two U.S. House candidates in 2022. Here are the results of the apportionment calculations:

States Gaining Districts (7)

Arizona +1 (from 9 to 10)

Colorado +1 (from 7 to 8)

Florida +2 (from 27 to 29)

Montana +1 (from at-large to 2)

North Carolina +1 (from 13 to 14)

Oregon +1 (from 5 to 6)

Texas +3 (from 36 to 39)

States Losing Districts (8 or 10)

Alabama -1 (from 7 to 6)

California -1 or even (from 53 to 52 or no change)

Illinois -1 (from 18 to 17)

Michigan -1 (from 14 to 13)

Minnesota -1 or even (from 8 to 7 or no change)

New York -2 (from 27 to 25)

Ohio -1 (from 16 to 15)

Pennsylvania -1 (from 18 to 17)

Rhode Island -1 (from 2 to 1)

West Virginia -1 (from 3 to 2)

Remember, the U.S. House is capped at 435 seats. And while population is the main driver of how those are allocated, there are other complicated rules, including the fact that every state is automatically given one seat regardless of size. Thus, even though California has added more than 2 million people over the last 10 years, the state is in real danger of losing a seat for the first time in its 160-year history. And it is doing everything in its power to prevent that from happening.

Worried about an undercount, California is spending at least $100 million of state money in a Census 2020 outreach effort. That’s compared to just $2 million in 2010.

And it’s not only political power on the line. The Census data determines how roughly $800 billion in federal funds are divvied up each year on everything from infrastructure to public health programs.

Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services, stressed that the 2020 projections are preliminary and could change. He added, “How well individual states conduct their own Complete Count campaigns could have a profound impact on how well the 2020 Census is conducted.”

For Montana’s part, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock has included $100,000 to promote the Census in the next state budget. Perhaps that’s enough, but there’s a lot on the line for our state if public outreach falls short.