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State’s new congressional seat no surprise, but implications on statewide redistricting remain to be seen

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — While 2020 Census data released Monday shows North Carolina will gain another seat in the U.S. House, locals say the growth is no surprise and effects on statewide redistricting and which party may benefit most remains to be seen.

The U.S. Census Bureau on Monday released congressional apportionment data and population totals for each state, with the full data anticipated for release later this year. North Carolina gained an additional seat in the U.S. House for the first time since 2000, when it first reached 13 seats, according to the 2020 Census data. Rowan County is currently part of the 13th Congressional district in the U.S. House.

Apportionment is a process, outlined in Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, of using decennial Census information to determine how many seats each state is granted in the U.S. House of Representatives. Since 1940, the Method of Equal Proportions has distributed all 435 seats in Congress among each state. The constitution calls for each state to be granted a minimum of one seat with the remaining 385 seats allocated using population data. The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and U.S. Island areas are excluded from apportionment as they don’t have any voting seats in the House.

The number of seats each state is granted in Congress also determines the number of electoral votes each state gets during a national election. States receive an electoral vote for each of its two senators and then one additional vote for each representative.

Additionally, with almost a million new residents in North Carolina reported since 2010, North Carolina moved up one to now rank ninth in the nation for highest population.

North Carolina had a resident population of 9.54 million in 2010, and grew to 10.44 million in 2020. North Carolina’s growth of 9.5% exceeded the national average of 7.1% — a figure that includes Puerto Rico. The nation had a population of 312.47 million in 2010, and grew to 334.74 million in 2020.

All states experienced growth except Mississippi, Illinois and West Virginia.

On average, each representative in the U.S. House represents more than 700,000 Americans. In North Carolina, 2020 Census data estimates that nearly 747,000 North Carolinians are represented in each congressional district.

Michael Bitzer, politics professor and department chair at Catawba College, said information released Monday is no surprise because the nation’s population is diversifying and has been growing steadily. While the data doesn’t provide enough information to determine where the additional congressional seat in North Carolina will land, Bitzer expects the strategy of Republicans, who hold the majority in the General Assembly, will be able to hold on to their base in the suburbs and divide up residents outside of the more urban counties.

Rep. Harry Warren, a Republican representing Rowan County and a member of the House Redistricting Committee, said North Carolina’s gain of one congressional seat is no surprise, attributing growth to a “decade of tax and regulatory reforms.”

“The rapid growth of the state’s population, likely a result of a decade of tax and regulatory reforms, has attracted over a million people to the state for jobs, retirement and has encouraged business expansion and entrepreneurial activity,” Warren told the Post.

He anticipates redistricting “will be conducted fairly and transparently in a bipartisan fashion.” At this time, however, most of the focus is passing a statewide 2021-23 biennial budget, he added.

Overall, Bitzer said, it appears that Republicans benefited most from the 2020 population figures because states such as Florida and Texas collectively gained three additional seats and added electoral votes to their pots. Additionally, the states of Ohio, California, New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania lost a seat.

However, demographic information depicting the level of diversification in the increasing population could end up advantageous to Democrats, especially since the country is diversifying, Bitzer said. More broadly, Bitzer said, Monday’s data shows a continued population shift to the South and West, which has been happening for decades now.

Bitzer recalled the 2016 court ruling stating partisan gerrymandering violated the state constitution as relevant in upcoming redistricting discussions. While the federal courts have taken themselves “out of resolving partisan gerrymandering issues,” they would still be involved in ruling on cases of racial gerrymandering.

“That’s where we’ll see potential battle lines,” he said.

Bitzer said he anticipates the state’s redistricting process to be transparent, but “as one scholar describes it,” he said, “redistricting is the most partisan activity in America.” Additionally, the party in power always wants to protect its incumbents.

“Layer on top of that the extra congressional seat and it exponentially grows the partisanship,” Bitzer said. “The question is how far will Republicans push partisanship in redrawing these districts.”

The states of South Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee all saw population increases as well, though North Carolina remains the only state in the region to gain another congressional seat.

All of the aforementioned states grew their populations by more than 7%, except for Kentucky, which only increased by 3.8%. South Carolina’s population grew by 10.7% and now ranks 23rd in the U.S. for highest population. Georgia grew by 10.6%, and now ranks eighth in the nation for most population. Additionally, Virginia increased its population by nearly 8%, and ranks 12th for largest population. Tennessee grew by nearly 9% and ranks 16th.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246. 

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