Census 2020: Pa. is expected to lose a seat in Congress. Here’s why that’s a huge deal

Key: Navy - D+5,000 or more, Blue - D+1,001 to D+4,999, Light Skyblue - D+1 to D+1,000. Light Salmon - R+1 to R+1,000, Red - R+1,001 to R+4,999, Maroon - R+5,000 or more. (Map by Nick Field via Dave’s Redistricting)

WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania is projected to lose a U.S. House seat in the coming years, new data show — a change that would diminish the state’s influence in national politics and could lead to less money for federally funded projects and services like roads and health care facilities.

The Keystone State is one of 10 “losing states” on a list compiled by Election Data Services, a political consulting firm. It is based on data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau and projected population shifts through April 1, the date as of which all people in U.S. households will be counted.

That’s not because the state is losing people; to the contrary, Pennsylvania’s population has risen by nearly 100,000 over the past decade. With about 13 million people as of last year, Pennsylvania is the nation’s 5th most populous state.

But other states — particularly those in the Sun Belt — are growing faster.

As a result, Pennsylvania could drop from 18 to 17 members of Congress — continuing a decades-long decline in congressional representation. The state had 36 House seats in the 1910s, but has seen declining representation ever since.

Pennsylvania is not unlike its neighbors in the Midwest and Northeast, several of which are also projected to lose out to the South and West, according to Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services.

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Under Brace’s projections, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon are expected to pick up one House seat next year; Florida would gain two; and Texas three. On the losing side are Alabama, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

But the projections are merely best guesses.

The final count — and the subsequent apportionment of U.S. House members — will depend on the Trump administration’s support for and effectiveness in undertaking the massive project, the public’s response to it and the implications of national events, such as natural disasters, Brace said in a statement.

A full and perfectly precise accounting of the nation’s increasingly diverse and growing population — now estimated at some 330 million — is all but impossible.

Certain groups, such as people of color, homeless people, young children, immigrants and others have been undercounted in the past and may be so again.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the 2020 census could not include a question about citizenship status, but some are still wary of providing the government with personal information, according to Tom Wolf, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice.

Another unknown is how the nation’s first “online first” census will play out. Questions remain about whether the project’s internet platform will work and the degree to which people will respond, Wolf said. The census has been underfunded this decade and, as a result, hasn’t been tested as thoroughly as hoped, he said.

He also cited concerns about disinformation about the process on social media. “There are still significant questions about how everything will come together.”

‘Reallocating political power’

The final count will be delivered to the president in December — after the elections this fall — and total population numbers will be available early next year.

The results will have profound implications for Pennsylvanians, in that they will determine who is represented in the nation’s political system and who gets what from the government.

“The census is reallocating political power throughout the country,” Wolf said. “We’re not just talking about the political power of states. We’re also talking about the political power of communities throughout those states.”

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Census data are used to apportion seats in Congress, which in turn determines states’ representation in the Electoral College — and their say in presidential elections. They are also used to determine how to distribute billions of dollars in federal funds to states, counties and communities for schools, roads, hospitals and other programs and services.

The loss of another of Pennsylvania’s House seats would likely lead to less influence in Congress and less money for the state, said Chris Warshaw, a professor of political science at George Washington University. Studies show that the number of seats a state has in Congress affects how much money it gets from the federal government, he added.

Still, Pennsylvania — which would still have a larger delegation than most other states — would still wield considerable influence in Congress and attract attention as a major battleground in presidential elections, observers said.

Redistricting

The census results will also be used in redistricting, the process by which new congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn.

In 2011, the Pennsylvania GOP drew what Patrick Rodenbush — spokesman for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee — called one of the most gerrymandered maps in the country.

The state Supreme Court threw out that congressional map and drew a new one in time for the 2018 elections. Democrats gained seats, and the congressional delegation is now evenly split.

The court’s decision did not affect lines for state legislative districts, which were also manipulated for political gain, according to FairDistricts PA, a nonpartisan coalition working to change the redistricting process.

Democratic candidates for state legislative offices won more votes in 2018, but the GOP nonetheless controls both chambers of the General Assembly.

That shows how “skewed” the map is, Rodenbush said. To “restore fairness,” his group is launching a national redistricting campaign that is targeting Pennsylvania and other states.

FairDistricts PA and other organizations are also pushing for change. They are backing legislation that would create an independent commission to draw congressional districts as well as a bill that would amend the state constitution to create an independent commission to draw state legislative lines.

Without reform, the redistricting process will likely continue as it has in the past, said Patrick Beaty, legislative director of FairDistricts PA. “We need to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish.”