The NCSL Blog


By Wendy Underhill

Yesterday's long-awaited news from the U.S. Census Bureau about which states gained and lost congressional seats drew quick responses from state lawmakers.

This March 19, 2020, file photo, shows a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident. Alabama on Wednesday became the second state to challenge the U.S. Census Bureau's decision to delay by six months the release of data used for redrawing congressional and legislative districts, as it took aim at the accuracy of a privacy protection system that it alleged is holding up the process.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)First, the headlines from the first data release:

  •  U.S. population has grown in the last 10 years from 308,745,538 to 331,449,281, a growth rate of 7.4%.
  • This decade, 37 states will continue with the same number of seats they have currently.
  • The other 13 are feeling reapportionment pain or gain. That is far fewer total changes than in the last three decades. In 2010 and 2000, 18 states either lost or gained, and in 1990, 21 states did.

What do legislators have to say? Here’s a smattering of Day One comments.

“It’s such a relief. Losing a congressional district and having to pick winners and losers in the redistricting process is not a good way to live,” said Senator Jim McClendon (R), co-chair of Alabama’s reapportionment committee. “We are proud for Alabama! We did a good job of working with the census bureau—a concerted effort across the state from a number of groups to get all the people counted.”

California Senate President Pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins's statement included this: “While today’s numbers may show a loss the fact is there will be significant gains coming into California—across the board—for years.”

In Rhode Island, which many observers had predicted would lose one of its two congressional seats, House Speaker Joe Shekarchi (D) tweeted: “I was very pleased to learn that, with the results of the recent #Census count, #RI will retain both of its congressional seats. This is significant when federal funding is allocated to ensure that our state receives as much as possible—billions of dollars are at stake.”

Florida Representative Tom Leek (R), chair of the House Committee on Redistricting, was quoted in the Tallahassee Democrat about redistricting: “These are just raw numbers telling us how many live in each state and determining how many congressional districts you get. We have no data to even begin to draw maps.”

Minnesota Senator Mary Kiffmeyer (R) said, "No doubt Minnesotans’ worked hard on getting the count as complete as possible shown by the highest state participation rate.  I and my fellow legislators are very happy with keeping our full delegation and proud of our Minnesotans!”

Arizona Representative John Kavanaugh (R): “All of the Republicans were disappointed because we were counting on an additional seat and more representation in Congress. Some were more disappointed than others, because with a new seat, they could have run for congress instead of staying in the ‘not ready for prime time legislature.’”

California Senator Steve Glazer (D): "With many challenges throughout 2020, it was important for California to partner with the Bureau to try and get a full and accurate population count of our state.  I am very proud of the efforts our state made, under very difficult circumstances, to encourage all Californians to participate in the census, and particularly our unprecedented outreach to hard-to-count populations.  I want to thank all the state and local officials, nonprofit organizations, and volunteers who helped in this process.

"With the release of apportionment data on Monday, the Bureau is next expected to release population data for use in redistricting by mid-August. Census data delays have caused a great deal of stress to state and local governing bodies. I commend the Biden Administration's commitment to releasing this population data early in a legacy format, and urge that this be done as soon as possible while ensuring the accuracy and integrity of the data, so that states may begin to draw their lines in an open, public, and thoughtful way."

Oregon Senator Kathleen Taylor (D), who chairs the Senate's redistricting committee: “It is exciting that we will gain an additional seat in Congress and Oregonians’ voices will be better represented in Washington, D.C. I am confident in our committees’ ability to continue the important work of redistricting in a fair and collaborative way that ensure all Oregonians are represented.” 

Montana Representative Wendy McKamey (R) said, “We are thrilled. Finally we feel like we have better representation of our huge landmass and just over 1 million people." Montana went from one congressional seat to two, which means the state will be divided in two. How? “I’ve seen several potential lines, including ovals, circles and rumors they were just going to let the bear draw it!”

Reapportionment is just the opening act for this year’s main event: redistricting. Redistricting begins in most states when the Census Bureau provides its second big release of the decade, the detailed data designed specifically for redistricting as required by Public Law 94-171. (NCSL, while still in its infancy, was instrumental in the passage of P.L. 94-171 in 1975.) That second data release will include information on precisely where people live, plus a few high-level characteristics such as race, ethnicity and age.

It won’t be until redistricting takes place that we’ll know exactly where those new equal-population congressional districts will be. While redistricting is never easy, the job is harder for gainers and losers because those states can’t just tweak existing maps and may instead start with a clean slate. (The six states with just one member of Congress get a pass on congressional redistricting.)

And congressional redistricting is only half the story. All states will use this same detailed data to redraw their legislative maps later this year as well, aiming at equal population districts while balancing other criteria. In fact, states are in the midst of planning for redistricting already.

The new data also shows states where they stand in terms of their share of the federal funding pie to be served for the next decade.

In case you missed the box score:

Who gained? 

  • Texas (+2 seats for a total of 38, and the second-largest delegation in the U.S. House, after California).
  • Colorado (+1 seat for a total of eight).
  • Florida (+1 seats for a total of 28).
  • Montana (+1 for a total of two).
  • North Carolina (+1 for a total of 14).
  • Oregon (+1 for a total of six).

Who lost?

  • California (-1 for a total of 52).
  • Illinois (-1 for a total of 17).
  • Michigan (-1 for a total of 13).
  • New York (-1 for a total of 26).
  • Ohio (-1 for a total of 15).
  • Pennsylvania (-1 for a total of 17).
  • West Virginia (-1 for a total of 2).

It doesn’t take a demographer to see that population growth was greater in the urban south and west than in the Midwest, continuing a decades-old trend. It doesn’t take a politico to see that Republican-controlled states gained more people and political power, whereas the losses are distributed among states led by both parties.

And it doesn’t take a psychic to guess that the next several months will be action-packed on the redistricting front, as states draw new maps based on population shifts.

Wendy Underhill is the director of NCSL's Elections and Redistricting Program. 

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.