The U.S. Constitution designates the census as the method used to apportion seats in the House of Representatives, which since 1929 has been permanently capped at 435 districts. Each state is allotted a portion of these seats based on the size of its population relative to the other states. Redistricting is done once every ten years to reflect the latest census and how the population has changed or moved, and every state is guaranteed at least one representative. Consequently, a state may gain seats in the House if its population grows or lose seats if its population decreases relative to populations in other states.
Since the last census was conducted in 2010, California’s population has increased by 6.1% or approximately 2 million people. While that may seem like a substantial increase, California’s rate of growth has not kept up with the rest of the nation’s average of 7.4%. The disparity between the growth rate of California and the rest of the nation will leave the Golden State with one less congressional seat. It is speculated that because of low population growth relative to other counties, that this seat will come out of the Eastern Los Angeles area. Wherever the lost seat comes from, California will lose an incumbent. However, California will remain the largest delegation in Washington D.C., with 52 representatives.
Because the House of Representatives is fixed at 435 seats, population changes can shift the balance of power. Six states saw their populations grow faster than the national average including Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Oregon and Montana. Each of these states will gain at least one seat in the House of Representatives, while Texas is set to gain two seats. Between 2010 and 2020 Texas’ population increased by more than 15%, more than doubling that of California and the national average.
One less representative in Congress means less influence in federal policymaking, one fewer electoral vote for the presidency and less federal money for things like health care and affordable housing.
How do these population changes affect the statewide redistricting process?
According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, the primary purpose of redistricting is to establish districts which are “reasonably equal” in population. California will redraw state Senate and Assembly seats, possibly leaving some Assemblymembers without a district.
California redraws district boundaries once every 10 years upon completion of the United States Census. The census data guides the drawing of districts for the House of Representatives, state legislative seats, and local seats like the Board of Supervisors or City Council.
Unlike most states, California has a 14-member independent commission of citizens consisting of 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 4 No Party Preference. Proposition 11 (or the Voters FIRST Act) was passed by California voters in 2008, placing the power to draw electoral boundaries for the State Assembly, State Senate and Board of Equalization districts in a Citizen’s Redistricting Commission instead of the State Legislature. In 2010, voters passed Proposition 20 to give the Citizens Redistricting Commission the power to draw electoral boundaries for U.S. House seats as well. Commissioners are required to make their meetings, hearings and debates public and must follow strict transparency and nonpartisan rules. The upcoming redistricting is only the second time that California has redrawn districts using an independent commission.
This year, states will receive Census Bureau data on September 30, which is six months later than planned, due to COVID-19. The new districts will be drawn by February 2022 leaving an extremely short period of time for candidates to campaign before the June 2022 midterm primaries.