California and New York appear set to lose some power in Congress after the 2020 Census numbers are tallied, while Florida and Texas look likely to gain two or three seats.
Never in the history of the United States Census, which goes all the way back to 1790, has California ever seen any population decline or loss of clout in the Census count. Granted, California did not become a state until 1850, but the state has still grown in residents, and power, each decade in more than 150 years of Census-taking. But a San Francisco Chronicle editorial today rings the alarm bells that California could lose a seat in Congress based on the 2020 count, a move that would also cost the Golden State hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds.
California currently has 53 representatives, the most of any state, and the Chron notes that number appears likely to slip to 52 due to out-migration to other states, though we won't know until everyone is counted.
CBS News goes through all that states to find that the likely losers of one (or more) seats also include New York, Illinois, and seven other states. This would entail the loss of Electoral College votes, though these blue state losses are canceled out by similar red state losses in states like Alabama, Ohio, and West Virginia. Plus, new seats are going to increasingly purplish states like Texas, Arizona, and Colorado.
Of course, the numbers are far from in, so this is all just informed speculation. It comes from the Census' 2019 Population Estimates Program report projections released on December 30, 2019. So California’s loss is not a done deal.
That same day, the Census also released a separate Census Test Report that tested the impact of the citizenship question on response rates. A Census Bureau spokesperson tells us these are separate reports with distinct, different purposes.
"The Census Test is done to fine-tune the operations and questions in the 2020 Census, and is not used to project population for the country," said U.S. Census Bureau spokesperson Josh Green. "Population estimates are released every year by the Census based on projections from the last decennial Census combined with current data on births, deaths and migration."
But there’s plenty to be concerned about in the 2020 Census, as it will be administered by a Trump administration whose defining characteristics are top-level incompetence and race-based mean-spritedness. The administration has already tried to add a citizenship question to the Census, clearly designed to intimidate immigrant populations from being participating. That was struck down by the Supreme Court, though this Census still carries risks, like the possibility of hacking since you’ll be able to complete the questionnaire online — and the potential for bad actors to spread misinformation about how the census works on social media, which companies like Facebook and Twitter have vowed to combat.
Even if California does get nicked out of a congressional seat and an Electoral College vote, this would not affect this year’s 2020 presidential election. The counting won’t be finished until next year, and then will be followed by a redrawing of Congressional districts. So there is no electoral impact until the 2022 midterm elections. But the statehouse will feel the impact of less federal funding, and it would not be surprising if some California member of the House of Representatives gets gerrymandered out of a job.
Note: This post has been updated with comment from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Related: Facebook Says It Will Fight Disinformation About the 2020 Census [SFist]