Redistricting: Losing, Keeping Seat Too Close to Call

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Looks like a very close race between Minnesota, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.

Previously, I focused on the mechanics of congressional redistricting — how it’s done, when and what happened the last time around in 2002. Moving inexorably toward the next round in 2010 to 2012, I spoke with Minnesota State Demographer Tom Gillaspy about his role in the process.

So is Minnesota going to lose a seat in Congress?

Answer: It’s too close to call. Gillaspy told me he ran a projection last December using 2006 population estimates extrapolated out to April 1, 2010 (Census Day), and the results indicated a very close race between Minnesota, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. The nominal results indicated that Minnesota would indeed lose a seat, but Gillaspy added that a lot can change between now and April of 2010. He said a similar situation existed in the late 1980s with Louisiana, and the final outcome “is likely to be close and much will depend on economic and other events between now and then, as well as the quality of the count in each state.”

On population growth in the North Star State, Gillaspy generally confirmed the conventional wisdom that suburban growth has been strong and urban growth stagnant or negative. “The most rapid growth has been in the suburban and exurban districts. While counties such as Anoka, Dakota, Washington and western Hennepin continue to see strong growth, the most rapidly growing areas are the next ring of counties including Scott, Carver, Wright, Sherburne, Isanti and Chisago counties. Many counties [in western and southwestern Minnesota] continue to experience population decline or very slow growth. The central cities and inner suburbs have also either declined or seen little population growth. At this time, congressional districts 4 and 5 have the smallest populations, while the 6th District has the largest.”

An aside: In public policy terms, this strikes at least one political writer as a good reason for strong rural economic development programs and massive improvements to public-transit infrastructure so that kids graduating from school and looking for jobs can live near home and commute to the cities for work, but that is another post altogether.

Gillaspy noted that minority populations are not just concentrated in the Twin Cities but also in northern Minnesota on Native American reservations, but that race and ethnicity issues will be considered by the legislature when they go about redrawing the map in 2010. He said the same of the idea of combining the 4th and 5th congressional districts districts into one urban district, and of the requirements placed on the burgeoning 2nd and 6th districts — that the outcome will depend largely upon the leanings of those charged with drawing the lines.

So who will be drawing the lines? Who wants to be involved, and who definitely will be? Check back this week for more information on that front.