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South gains electoral clout in Census tally

Every 10 years, a few states gain representatives in the House while others lose them, to reflect population shifts. Your guide to the politics of the U.S. Census.
Voters casting ballots at a polling station in East Austin, Texas, last month. Texas will gain representatives in the House as a result of the 2010 census.LM Otero / AP

It was a significant political event that happens only once every 10 years: the Census announced its population count for each state.

Here’s a guide to the politics that followed from 2010's count.

What was the significance of what the Census announced on Tuesday?Each state’s population determines the number of representatives that it will be allocated in the House of Representatives.

Every 10 years, after the Census Bureau tallies the population, some states gain seats, others lose them, to reflect faster population growth in some states than in others. This process of reallocating seats is called reapportionment.

New York and Ohio each lost two seats. Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Iowa each lost one seat.

Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Washington.

Texas gained four seats, Florida gained two, and the others each gained one.

Reapportionment is a zero-sum game since the number of seats in the House was fixed by Congress in 1911 (and reaffirmed in 1929) at 435.

Reapportionment measures long-term shifts in political power. New York, for example, went from having 45 House members in the 1940s to only 27 as a result of the 2010 Census data.

At the same time, Florida’s representation has now grown from only six members in the 1940s to 27 — matching New York in political clout in the House.

To see how states’ apportionment of House members has changed since the first Congress, see .

The Constitution specifies that "each state shall have at least one representative," which means that states such as Wyoming will always have one member no matter how small their populations remain.

Is it mandatory for a state to have lost population since the 2000 Census in order to lose seats in the House?No. If a state’s population is growing slowly relative to other states’ populations, it could lose seats in the House.

What’s the ratio between the number of people in each state and the number of representatives it has?Based on the new Census data, each member of the House will represent an average of 710,767 people.

Based on the apportionment after the 2000 Census, the ratio was one member for about every 647,000 people. But four states — Vermont, Wyoming, Alaska and North Dakota — had populations than were smaller than 647,000.

Since the Constitution specifies that each state shall have at least one representative, each of those states got one even though their entire state populations were smaller than the populations of congressional districts in other states.

How long does it take for the reapportionment of seats to occur?Reapportionment takes effect two years after the last Census. The apportionment after the 2000 Census took effect in time for the 2002 elections, which elected the Congress that convened in January 2003.

If a state has many illegal immigrants living in it, will it get more representatives in the House? Yes. All people, citizens and non-citizens, legal residents and illegal residents, are included in the count used to determine state population and representation. But illegal immigrants may have shunned contact with Census enumerators and therefore may be undercounted.

Does reapportionment have an effect on the 2012 presidential election?Yes, it could have a significant effect on the 2012 presidential election, if it’s a close one.

Presidents are elected by the Electoral College, not by direct vote of the people. Each state gets a number of presidential electors equal to the number of its members of the House plus two.

In the 2008 election, Texas, for example, had 34 electoral votes. As a result of reapportionment, Texas will have 38 electoral votes in the 2012 election.

Of the eight states gaining representation — and thus gaining electoral votes —  President Barack Obama won only three of them: Nevada, Washington and Florida.

Of the states that are losing electoral votes, Obama won all of them except for Louisiana and Missouri.

Once reapportionment has determined how many seats each state will have, how are the district lines drawn within each state?In 43 states, the state legislature draws the new lines, a process called redistricting. In all but one of those states, the governor has veto power over the plan drawn by the legislature.

Legislatures often design districts to give one party an advantage, a process called gerrymandering.

In a few states a nonpartisan or bipartisan commission does the redistricting.

Also some states come under the restrictions of the federal Voting Rights Act and thus their redistricting plans will need to be submitted to the Justice Department for approval. This often has ended up in court battles.

How did last November’s elections affect redistricting?Republicans made massive gains in state elections which will help the GOP protect its new majority in the House by drawing lines favorable to Republicans.

According to Tim Storey of the National Conference of State Legislatures, of the 435 House districts, 195 are in states where GOP legislatures and Republican governors will draw the lines; only 49 of the House districts are in states where Democrats will entirely control the line drawing.

Republican strategist Ed Gillespie, who helped direct GOP redistricting effort, said GOP legislators will be in position to redraw the maps to protect between 15 and 25 Republican seats.

“I’m not sure how much we’re going to gain (from redistricting) in terms of seats because it was such a big election for (House) Republicans,” Gillespie said after the election. “I think we’re going to end up protecting a lot as opposed to carving new ones.”

Isn’t partisan design of congressional districts a politicizing of the process?Yes, it is. “This is the most purely political process in politics,” said a leading Democratic expert on redistricting, Tom Bonier of the National Committee for an Effective Congress.

In a 2004 decision, Vieth v. Jubelirer, the Supreme Court said there was no legal standard to figure out whether a redistricting plan was so partisan that it violated the Constitution. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the “unanswerable question” for the court was: “How much political motivation and effect is too much?”

What states are worth watching as the redistricting process unfolds over the next several months?Bonier said the redistricting struggle in New York “is incredibly important.”

In the November elections, Republicans won five House seats in New York that had been held by Democrats. Since the GOP also won control of the New York State Senate, “we’ll have a better chance of protecting those five freshman Republicans so that they’re not drawn out of their seats — especially in a state that is going to lose two seats in the apportionment process,” Gillespie said.

Republicans also won a vacant House seat in New York, one that had been held by embattled Democrat Eric Massa before he resigned last March. Republican Tom Reed took office on Nov. 18. Including Reed, the total GOP gain in New York was six seats.

Democrats won't control the entire redistricting process in any of the eight states gaining a district, while Republicans will have complete control in five of those states, Bonier said.

But in Florida a constitutional amendment bans partisan gerrymanders. That, Bonier said, “will make it difficult for the Republicans to preserve what is the most gerrymandered map among all fifty states." The fact that Florida will gain two seats in reapportionment and Democrats currently control only six of 25 congressional districts (in the new Congress) "makes the outcome of redistricting here even more critical.”