The three most recent censuses saw Georgia rewarded with 4 additional congressional seats, going from 10 at the time of the 1990 census to 14 since 2013. During that period, only Florida and Texas added more congressional seats. Georgians have hoped that the state would gain a 15th seat following the 2020 enumeration. Yet demographers who study population trends see little prospect that Georgia’s ambitions would be met.
Kim Brace of Election Data Services projects that there are 10 or 11 states with better claims before Georgia would qualify for a 15th seat. Based on various population trends, Brace estimates that Georgia needs to find about 325,000 more residents to qualify for an additional seat.
Recently we learned that Georgians are among the nation’s least likely to return the 2020 census forms. As of September 9, the state ranked 49th with 82.1% of households having filled out a census form. Consequently, any idea that the estimates made by demographers might be short changing the state have been dashed. Georgians seem to have forgotten a lesson from 40 years ago when an incomplete count delayed the acquisition of an 11th member of Congress for a decade.
A southern state with far more at stake than Georgia is Alabama. Brace’s calculations show Alabama losing one of its 7 seats. However, the projections are that if the state were to find about 20,000 more residents than it is estimated to have, it would not see the size of its delegation reduced. Alabama is not helping its case as its rate of census form completion ranks dead last with 81.5 percent responding. To induce more participation, the state is holding out the prospect for a low-responding county to get $65,000 for its school budget.
In addition to impacting a state’s influence in Congress and the likelihood that it will have legislators who hold powerful positions like the chair or ranking member of a committee, reapportionment determines a state’s weight in the Electoral College. The more Electoral College votes, the more attention a state receives in a presidential campaign – assuming that the state is a toss-up. That explains why for the last several decades, Florida has been ground zero in presidential elections. Both parties have a chance for victory and it now produces the 3rd largest haul of electors.
In addition to reduced political influence, a poor count reduces a state’s share of federal dollars from a myriad of programs that make allocations based on population. Doing less well than other states in counting its residents results in a 10-year long penalty, a loss of funding that can never be reclaimed.
Charles S. Bullock, III, is the Distinguished University Professor of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. He is author of Redistricting: The Most Political Activity in America, the second edition of which will be published early in 2021.