ST. PAUL -- How close did Minnesota come to losing one of its eight seats in the U.S. House?
Eighty-nine New Yorkers.
Well, technically, 89 New York residents who, in the eyes of the U.S. Census Bureau, don’t exist.
In other words, if New York state — whose 2020 population is now officially listed as 20,215,751 — had 89 more people, then Minnesota would have lost one of its seats. Instead, we kept all eight.
That was how the numbers played out, according to Kristin Koslap, whose title is “senior technical expert for 2020 census apportionment, population division” for the U.S. Census Bureau. Minnesota now has 5,709,752, residents, compared to 5,314,879 counted in 2010.
Koslap’s revelation that New York and Minnesota’s congressional apportionment fates were so close was met with “wait-what??” from members of the media, who were on a national conference call with the federal agency when it announced the results.
“I mean, wow,” said one reporter from a New York publication who asked Koslap to repeat the assertion for a third time to make sure she understood.
Yep, Koslap confirmed, that’s how the arithmetic worked out.
How it works
According to federal statutes and policies in place since 1941, the Census Bureau creates a mathematical algorithm to attempt to make every U.S. House seat represent the same number of U.S. residents. It’s called the “equal proportions method.”
In 2010, that number was 662,991; the 2020 number appears to be 713,719, based on the most recent numbers. Whatever it was, New York was 89 people short of it, making it the holder of Spot Number 436 in the list to apportion the chamber’s 435 seats. Number 435 was Minnesota.
In 2010, Minnesota held onto all eight seats in what was then seen as a narrow margin of about 9,000 people, and many observers expected Minnesota to lose a seat this year.
But Koslap said razor-thin margins aren’t unprecedented. In 1970, she said, Utah needed 231 more people to fill out a Census form to gain a seat, which they didn’t.
Few believe those 89 New Yorkers don’t exist, but the Census is a strict enumeration, or count, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution, and the method of that count is simple: You gotta fill out a form.
The ongoing joke among many Census observers is that Minnesotans like filling out forms.
When asked directly whether a state like Minnesota might have simply benefited from higher Census participation that state’s that lost seats, officials declined to speculate.
Census counts historically have stood firm, but it’s not out of the question that New York could challenge its “loss” in court.
Peter Wattson, former Minnesota Senate legal counsel who is leading a lawsuit to change the way Minnesota draws its political maps following each census, assembled a brief list of similar close calls, and their ultimate outcomes. According to Wattson:
In 1991, Washington state won the 435th seat over Massachusetts by 12,606. Massachusetts sued to challenge the count, and lost.
In 2001, North Carolina won the 435th seat by 856 people over Utah. Utah sued to challenge the count, and lost.
In 2011, Minnesota won the 435th seat by 15,754 over North Carolina. North Carolina did not sue.
“I will be surprised if New York does not sue,” Wattson said in an email.