US Census: Battle over voting districts begins with release of critical data amid fight to protect right to vote

GOP lawmakers vie for control as states begin to redraw political lines for the first time without federal antidiscrimination guidelines dismissed by the Supreme Court

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 13 August 2021 00:17
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A trove of demographic information used to redraw voting districts and influence policy and federal funding over the next 10 years will ignite a firestorm of debate and litigation as lawmakers careen into 2022 midterm elections to determine control of Congress.

As soon as state lawmakers and redistricting bodies begin crunching once-a-decade US Census data from the controversial 2020 nationwide survey, a fraught process of redrawing political lines will begin with the spectre of gerrymandering districts to enshrine one-party Republican rule.

The process arrives in the midst of a nationwide campaign among GOP lawmakers to make it more difficult to vote while also stripping election oversight from generally nonpartisan elections officials and giving it to Republican-dominated state legislatures, after Donald Trump and his allies failed to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election propelled by his persistent lie that the election was “rigged” against him.

It’s also the first to take place without federal guardrails in place from the Voting Rights Act, the landmark civil rights law that, until a 2013 US Supreme Court Ruling, required states with histories of voting discrimination to have federal “preclearance” before those changes could be made.

GOP lawmakers have used the redistricting process to secure a greater political footprint for decades, and the elimination of federal protections could advance the trend into critical 2022 midterm elections.

Several Republican-leaning states like Florida and Texas will gain seats through apportionment, while GOP-dominated state legislatures will lead the electoral map-making process.

Census data reveals a slowly growing nation largely fuelled by metropolitan areas and multiracial populations with all 10 of the nation’s most populous areas seeing population spikes.

More than half of all US counties – 52 per cent – had a smaller population in 2020 than in 2010, while cities have grown faster than the nation as a whole, seeing metro area growth by 8.7 per cent from 2010.

“Metro areas are even more prominent this decade as the locations of population growth amidst otherwise widespread population decline,” the bureau’s Marc Perry said during a virtual press conference on 12 August.

Declining rural populations and the continuing trend of concentrating people into US cities could boost Democratic voting bases, while rural congressional districts that lean Republican could rely on more-urban areas, shrinking the political impact of minority voters and diluting their vote.

The nation has experienced a population growth of more than 234 million people within the last 100 years, yet congressional representation has remained the same. The average population size of each House district will be more than 761,000, roughly 50,000 more than 2010.

In April, the Census Bureau released its first batch of results revealing which states will gain or lose seats in the House of Representatives.

Shy of counting just 89 more people in the survey, New York will lose one seat in the House, while seven seats will shift among 13 states, the smallest number of shifts in any decade.

States along the nation’s southwest and southeast saw population growth within the last decade. As a result, Texas will gain two seats in the US House, and Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon will each gain one.

California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will each lose a seat.

Census figures are used to determine the allocation of the 425 seats in the House – with some gaining and others losing seats – relative to a state’s population. (Each state elects two people to the US Senate.)

The apportionment population includes the residents in each state, plus overseas military and federal civilian employees and their dependents who are allocated to a home state. It does not include Washington DC and Puerto Rico.

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