Arizona is projected to gain a seat in Congress. Here’s why that’s a huge deal

Photo by Tom Margie | Flickr/CC BY 2.0

WASHINGTON — Arizona is projected to gain a U.S. House seat in the coming years, new 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 Grand Canyon 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.

Arizona’s population has risen by nearly 900,000 people over the past decade and is now estimated at nearly 7.3 million, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data.

As a result, the state’s congressional delegation may rise from nine to 10 members of the U.S. House — continuing a steady increase in congressional representation over the last century.

Arizona 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 Arizonans, 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.”

Census data are used to apportion seats in Congress, which in turn determines states’ representation in the Electoral College – and their say in presidential elections. 

They are also 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 Arizona, 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.

New maps

The census results will also be used in redistricting, the process by which new congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn. 

Richard Herrera, a political science professor at Arizona State University, predicted that a new district might be drawn in Maricopa County due to large population gains. To add a new district to the state, mapmakers would have to carve up existing districts – a responsibility that will be managed by the state’s independent redistricting commission.

In 2000, Arizonans approved an amendment to the state constitution that took redistricting power from state legislators and gave it to the public. The panel comprises two Republican voters, two Democratic voters and one independent, who serves as chair.

The commission’s mandate is to draw districts that reflect the most recent census and that take other factors – such as the federal Voting Rights Act, district shape, geographical features, respect for communities of interest and potential competitiveness – into consideration. 

The commissioners must start from scratch, rather than redraw existing districts.

As such, the partisan effects of a 10th district in Arizona are difficult to predict, Herrera said. “It’s hard to say” what a new district would look like, he said. “My guess is it would be a competitive seat.”