With two new congressional seats, Texas grows its political power

TEXAS – The first results of the 2020 Census are in and officials in the Census Bureau have used that data to reallocate representatives in Congress. At the Tuesday announcement, Texas gained two new representatives – more than any other state – adding political clout to the rapidly growing Lone Star State.

Pandemic conditions have delayed the census count and the release of its data, but this week’s announcement proved Texas saw the most growth over the past decade. The state added just shy of 4 million residents over the past 10 years, reaching 29,145,505 residents in 2020, a 15.9% growth. Texas is part of the fastest growing region, the South, which had a 10.2% increase.

Karen Battle, chief of the population division at the bureau, explained just how states like Texas are showing such robust growth. “In terms of the population growth in the South, there really are different reasons for the growth. States like Texas and Florida definitely are experiencing natural increase, more births than deaths, and these states are also experiencing a lot of net migration, be it people moving internationally into those states or domestically into those states.”

In West Texas, census data was gathered through online and paper surveys and through door-to-door visits on foot, by ATV and on horseback. Still, the difficult conditions of collecting 2020 data led some states to lag behind in the count, and in Texas, the state did not allocate funds to support the census count. According to data released by the Bureau, Texas’ actual count came in over 140,000 less than it had estimated the Texas population to be – a wide difference that could have impacted the state’s congressional seat count.

While experts had estimated Texas would gain three seats, it ultimately ended up with two. Texas was the third-runner-up to gain another seat, right behind second-runner-up Ohio, and first-runner-up New York, which would have held onto a seat instead of losing it, if only 89 more residents had been counted there. 

To illustrate the need for the census, Acting Director of the Census Bureau Dr. Ron S. Jarmin explained this week that ahead of the nation’s first census in 1790, it was estimated the United States’ population was 2 million. When results of the first count were complete in 1793, 3.9 million people were found to live in the U.S., resulting in 40 additional Congress members. Since then, a census occurs every ten years, where the government attempts to count all of its residents.

While the number of congressional seats stays at 535, seven seats among that number were moved, affecting 13 different states; it’s the smallest number of seat shifts since the country adopted its current reallocation method in 1941.

This year, Texas will gain two seats, and Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon will each gain one. But those gains don’t come without corresponding losses; California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are all losing one seat.

Texas now sits at 38 seats, behind only California, which dropped to 52 this year. The Lone Star State also gained two votes in the electoral college, bringing it to 40 votes it can cast in presidential elections.

Aside from allocating the 535 seats of Congress, census data is used to help determine how many teachers are needed, how much public housing is needed, where to build public clinics, where to build new roads, and much more according to officials in the Census Bureau.

As more data is processed and released by the bureau, data about age, sex, race, ethnicity and more will become available, giving new insight into the changing makeup of the United States, Texas and Far West Texas.

However, the data provided on Tuesday was only broken down to a state-by-state level, so within Texas, the latest spread of the population across the state is still unknown. The Census Bureau is planning to release broken-down state data no later than September 30 this year. The information of where in the state Texans live is crucial for the state legislature to have, in order to redistrict Texas’ 38 congressional seats, including the two new ones.

Because the data has not yet been delivered, there will likely be a rare special session called by Governor Greg Abbott to gather the state legislature to draw up redistricting maps. Texas has repeatedly drawn ire from the courts for discriminatory redistricting that marginalizes the voting power of its residents of color, even drawing required oversight from federal officials. This year’s redistrict, however, will be the first in decades to not have required federal oversight.