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Minnesota’s population is growing! But we're still probably going to lose a congressional seat.

MinnPost dramatization by Tom Nehil
The Houston metropolitan area added nearly as many residents in one year (2014-2015) as Minnesota did in five.

You may have seen the headlines: new census numbers show Minnesota’s population is growing.

The Twin Cities metro now teems with over three million people! There are over 185,000 more Minnesotans in Minnesota than there were in 2010!

That must mean Minnesota is in great shape to hold onto its eight congressional seats when districts are redrawn in 2022, right?

Wrong. According to experts, the recently-released population figures show Minnesota is in greater danger than ever of losing a congressional seat.

If Minnesota’s population is growing, why is it going to lose a seat? The short answer: Minnesota may be growing, but it’s not growing as fast as other states, and it may not be able to catch up.

People going south

Under the law, the size of the House of Representatives is fixed at 435 seats, to be divided proportionally among the states, based on population. Therefore, as states gain population relative to others, they pick up more of those 435 seats — and the states whose populations decline, relative to others, must consequently lose seats.

From 2010 to 2015, the entire national population increased by 3.9 percent, and Minnesota’s increased by 3.6 percent. According to Eric Ostermeier, a political researcher at the University of Minnesota and writer of the Smart Politics blog, it’s a narrow but important margin. “That’s not good when you’re looking to hold onto a seat,” he says.

Meanwhile, sun belt states like Texas and Florida continued their explosive population growth patterns. In the period that Minnesota grew by 3.6 percent, Texas grew by 8.8 percent and Florida grew by 7.5 percent. North Dakota grew by over 12 percent, though those gains could be fleeting due to the now-slumping fossil fuel industry there.

One metropolitan area, Houston — which is home to over a million more people than Minnesota — added nearly as many residents in one year (2014-2015) as Minnesota did in five. According to the Houston Chronicle, Texas could gain as many as four new seats, the same amount the state added after the 2010 census.

If reapportionment were based on the April 2015 census numbers, the states gaining one or more seats would be Texas, Florida, Oregon, and North Carolina, according to Susan Brower, the Minnesota State Demographer. (Arizona and Colorado are in play to potentially add a seat as well, Ostermeier says.)

These southern and western states will raid the Midwest and the Northeast for congressional representation. The thing Minnesota observers are looking into is if the state can outpace its competition to escape losing a seat.

The good news on this front is that Minnesota isn’t growing as sluggishly as other states in the Midwest, which is the slowest-growing census-designated region in the country. “Overall, when you look at Minnesota in the Midwest region, we’re growing at a decent rate, 2.4 times the rate of the Midwest overall,” says Ostermeier.

“There are plenty of states that are ahead of Minnesota in population that are growing at a much lower rate, like New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, and Indiana,” he says.

Wisconsin, which has roughly 300,000 more people than Minnesota, is one of those states too, says Ostermeier. While the Badger State may escape losing a seat this time around — like Minnesota, Wisconsin also has eight House members — its slow growth means it is poised to follow in Minnesota's footsteps and lose its eighth seat after the 2030 census.

Brower says that, if the current numbers determined apportionment, Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Michigan would all lose seats. Under that projection, Minnesota would be edged out of a seat by a margin of just over 15,000 people.

What, MN worry?

Many Minnesotans remember the last round of redistricting, when the state was projected to lose a seat, but ultimately held on. Now, they’re skeptical of the warnings that a seat will be shed in 2022.

To that point, Brower says that “estimates and projections are not destiny… It is still plausible that some combination of strong response rates, error in the Census Bureau’s 2015 estimates, and growth between 2015 and 2020 will be enough to hold onto our 8th seat.”

“The best I can say is that it is a real possibility, but not a foregone conclusion,” she added.

Ostermeier is a little more pessimistic. “Nothing in data suggests that Minnesota will be able to save the eighth seat come 2020,” he says. He also noted it’s exceedingly rare for a state to not gain or lose a seat for as long as Minnesota has: the state has held eight seats since the 1960 census. “Minnesota has been stuck on eight for so long, people think we’ll always be on eight seats.”

“Around this time 10 years ago, there was — and for good reason — people were suggesting that the state would lose a seat or that it’d be close,” Ostermeier says.

“In a sense we’re where we were 10 years ago, but the numbers are looking worse… It’s not a case of crying wolf again if you’re a Minnesotan wanting eight congressional districts. It’s a little different this time around.”

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Districts

Let's make sure that if/when the number of congressional seats changes, the districts are redrawn in a non-political, mathematical way that factors only population. Gerrymandering is shameful and should have no place in American democracy.

Democrats, Republicans and independents should all call on their state elected officials to support a rational, transparent and statistically sound method of re-districting.