Arizona census stunner: No 10th congressional seat

By: - April 26, 2021 12:53 pm
redistricting flag

Illustration by VlatkoRadovic | iStock/Getty Images Plus

A widespread assumption that Arizona would gain a 10th congressional seat was unexpectedly torpedoed when the U.S. Census Bureau announced its reapportionment figures.

Arizona was not among the six states that will gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, defying expectations based on the state’s dramatic growth since the last census. Six states will gain extra seats in the U.S. House of Representatives: Texas will gain two, while Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon will each gain one seat. 

Arizona will have nine congressional districts, as it’s had for the past decade.

Arizona’s population jumped from about 6.4 million in the 2010 census to 7,158,923 in 2020, according to apportionment data from the Census Bureau. That’s notably less than Census Bureau population estimates in recent years. The bureau in 2019 estimated the state’s population at nearly 7.3 million, and at more than 7.4 million in 2020.

This marks the first time in 70 years that Arizona will not gain a new congressional seat. Arizona had one House seat from statehood in 1912 through the 1930s, gaining a second seat from the 1940 census. It didn’t gain a seat from the 1950 census, but got a third district from the 1960 census and gained one new seat in every subsequent census through 2010, except the 2000 census, which gave Arizona two new seats.

The news stunned Arizona’s political community, where it had been widely assumed that the state would have 10 congressional seats for the next decade. An analysis in December from the Virginia-based consulting firm Election Data Services projected that Arizona was one of seven states that would gain at least one seat

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Paul Bentz, a Republican political consultant, said every analysis he’s seen showed Arizona gaining a seat.

“I’m fairly shocked by the revelation here,” said Bentz, who works at the lobbying and consulting firm HighGround.

The U.S. Constitution mandates that every state get at least one seat in the House of Representatives. The allotment of the remaining 385 seats are determined using a population-based formula the Census Bureau adopted after the 1940 census. Using that formula, the bureau assigns “priority values” to determine who gets seats 51-435.

Kistin Koslap, a senior technical expert for apportionment at the Census Bureau, said during a live-streamed press briefing on Monday that the priority value for Arizona’s theoretical 10th seat was 440, missing the cutoff by five spots.

Arizona would have needed an additional 79,509 residents in the census in order to qualify for a 10th seat, said Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services.

After redistricting in 2011, when Arizona went from eight to nine congressional seats, each district started with a population of about 710,000. Based on the new population numbers from the census, Arizona’s nine congressional districts will each have about 795,000 residents after redistricting. 

By way of comparison, Oregon, which gained a sixth seat, will have about 707,000 residents per district to start the next decade. Montana, which is gaining a second seat, will have about 542,000 people in each district. New York, which lost a district, will have about 777,000 people per congressional district. Kolsap said New York wouldn’t have lost that seat had a mere 89 additional residents been added to the state’s population.

Brace said the fact that each state gets one seat, no matter their population, throws off the average district size.

Last year, the census effort was hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Trump administration shut down census work earlier than expected. The Trump administration also took steps that critics said were intended to scare minority communities — particularly Latinos — away from participating for fear that they or their families could face deportation.

“You guys were close,” Brace said. “But in all likelihood, my gut would be, for Arizona, you had some major problems in counting of Hispanic populations. And the issue of dealing with the way the Trump administration was pushing the citizenship issue, I think that came back to haunt you.”

Gov. Doug Ducey supported adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census — which hadn’t been asked in decades amid concerns that it decreased response among immigrants — even if it ultimately cost Arizona money. In early 2020, Ducey noted that each person not counted represented a loss of $887 in federal funding to Arizona. A 1% undercount, the Ducey administration said, would cost the state at least $620 million over the next decade.

The Ducey administration’s Twitter account for its census campaign said Arizona counted 99.9 percent of the state’s households through an effort that included a statewide media campaign, partnerships with state agencies and a grassroots outreach campaign that worked with schools, hospitals, philanthropic organizations, elected officials, tribal groups and others.

“While we’re disappointed AZ didn’t receive an additional Cong. seat, we want to recognize last year’s historic effort,” the Census committee tweeted. “In 2020, countless volunteers embarked on a statewide campaign to reach underrepresented communities, resulting in AZ’s highest self-response rate in decades.”

Though Ducey’s administration said it did what it could to count everyone living in Arizona, some Democrats, like Congressman Greg Stanton, blamed the governor for an alleged undercount in the 2020 census.

“Governor Ducey refused to stand up for Arizona and instead followed former President Trump’s strategy to intimidate Latinos and discourage their participation in the Census,” Stanton said in a press statement on Monday. “Rather than make up for it with a robust effort to encourage participation, Arizona spent far less than its peer states. When real-time data showed Arizona’s response rate was near the very bottom, state leaders looked the other way.”

Brace also said the Census Bureau’s population estimates, which projected that Arizona’s population would be higher by more than a quarter million people, have been off.

“We’re seeing that in other states. So, the issue is, what happened with their pop estimate program?” he said.

A spokesman for Ducey could not be reached for comment.

SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.

Several states that were expected to lose seats also maintained their current number of congressional districts, which left fewer new seats to divvy up among other seats. The Census Bureau noted that seven seats will shift among 13 states, the smallest number of seats to change states since the current apportionment formula went into use after the 1940 census.

Redistricting in Arizona is done by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which votes created in 2000 to divide the state up into congressional and legislative districts. With census data in hand, the commission — which consists of two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent chairperson — will soon be able to get to work redrawing the state’s political boundaries.

Rather than adjust the boundaries of the preexisting districts, as some states do, Arizona’s redistricting commission must start from scratch. The commission isn’t permitted to base its new districts on its predecessors.

“I think everyone expected this 10th congressional district to be a pressure release valve that would allow a little bit of a reshuffling of the deck and, combined with the restructuring of the legislative districts, create some opportunities out there,” Bentz said.

The Census Bureau is expected to provide states with the more detailed population data they’ll use for redistricting by Aug. 16.

***UPDATED: This story has been updated to include additional comments and information.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”

MORE FROM AUTHOR