By Allison Stevens
WASHINGTON — North Carolina is projected to gain a U.S. House seat in the coming years, recent data show — a change that would increase the state’s influence in national politics and could lead to more money for federally funded projects and services like roads and health care facilities.
The Tar Heel State is one of seven “gaining states” on a list compiled by Election Data Services, a political consulting firm. It is based on recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau and projected population shifts through April 1, the date by which all people in U.S. households will be counted.
North Carolina’s population has risen by nearly 1 million people over the past decade and is now estimated at 10.5 million, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data. It is the nation’s 9th most populous state.
As a result, the state’s congressional delegation may rise from 13 to 14 members of the U.S. House — continuing a gradual increase in congressional representation in recent decades.
North Carolina is like other states in the South and West, several of which are also projected to win more seats, according to Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services.
States in the Midwest and Northeast, meanwhile, are projected to lose seats because their populations are not growing as fast.
Under Brace’s projections, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon are expected to pick up one House seat next year; Florida would gain two; and Texas three. On the losing side are Alabama, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia.
But the projections are merely best guesses. The final count — and the subsequent apportionment of U.S. House members — will depend on the Trump administration’s support for and effectiveness in undertaking the massive project, the public’s response to it and the implications of national events, such as natural disasters, Brace said in a statement.
A full and precise accounting of the nation’s increasingly diverse and growing population — now estimated at some 330 million — is all but impossible.
Certain groups, such as people of color, homeless people, young children, immigrants and others have been undercounted in the past and may be so again.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the 2020 census could not include a question about citizenship status, but some are still wary of providing the government with personal information, according to Tom Wolf, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice.
Another unknown is how the nation’s first “online first” census will play out. Questions remain about whether the project’s internet platform will work and the degree to which people will respond, Wolf said. The census has been underfunded this decade and, as a result, hasn’t been tested as thoroughly as hoped, he said.
He also cited concerns about disinformation about the process on social media. “There are still significant questions about how everything will come together.”
‘Reallocating political power’
The final count will be delivered to the president in December — after the elections this fall — and total population numbers will be available early next year.
The results will have profound implications for North Carolinians, in that they will determine who is represented in the nation’s political system and who gets what from the government.
“The census is reallocating political power throughout the country,” Wolf said. “We’re not just talking about the political power of states. We’re also talking about the political power of communities throughout those states.”
Andy Taylor, political science professor at North Carolina State University.
Census data also determine states’ representation in the Electoral College — and their say in presidential elections. And they are used to determine how to distribute billions of dollars in federal funds to states, counties and communities for schools, roads, hospitals and other programs and services.
An additional House seat would likely lead to more influence in Congress and more money for the state, said Chris Warshaw, a professor of political science at The George Washington University. Studies show that the number of seats a state has in Congress affects how much money it gets from the federal government, he added.
“All things being equal, it should be a good thing for the state,” said Andy Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University.
New members’ effectiveness, however, depends on factors such as whether they are in the majority party, their committee assignments and their legislative skills and abilities, he said. Because the new representative will be junior, he or she will have limited influence, at least initially, he said.
The census results will also be used in redistricting, the process by which new congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn.
New maps will likely reflect population growth in urban and suburban areas, particularly in the Raleigh and Charlotte areas, according to Eric Heberlig, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Eric Heberlig, political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Less certain is how gains will translate into partisan representation.
North Carolina is competitive at the state level, but Republicans dominate the U.S. congressional delegation and both houses of the General Assembly, which controls the redistricting process.
That power has led to fiery legal battles over redistricting in recent years.
Last year, in a case involving North Carolina voting rights advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts could not wade into fights over partisan gerrymandering. But advocates won challenges in state court — prompting new maps that could lead to two more Democratic House seats in this year’s elections.
Taylor said the legal checks on redistricting could inhibit lawmakers from extreme partisan gerrymanders next time around.
Heberlig agreed, but added that it doesn’t mean that lawmakers still won’t try to “test the limits on what they can get away with.”
Allison Stevens is a reporter for The States Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.