Written by Kate Martin, Carolina Public Press.
North Carolina gained a 14th congressional seat as demographers predicted, the U.S. Census Bureau recently announced.
The state gained nearly 1 million new residents since a decade ago. That’s a 9.5% increase— the lowest overall population increase in North Carolina in the last century, census data shows.
Still, the state’s growth eclipsed the national change of 7.4% since 2010, the smallest national percentage change since 1941, said acting U.S. Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin during a press conference Monday announcing the results. The nation gained 331,449,281 people in the 10 years between censuses.
Five other states gained at least one congressional seat: Colorado, Florida, Montana and Oregon. Texas gained two congressional seats.
Seven states each lost one seat: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Minnesota had long been predicted to lose a congressional seat —and it would have if New York had recorded another 89 residents in its census count with other state numbers remaining the same, said Kristin Koslap, statistician and the senior technical expert for apportionment at the Census Bureau.
The results of the once-a-decade count of residents in the country decide how many representatives in Congress each state gets, as well as the number of electors for presidential elections. Census figures also help agencies decide where to allocate grant funding, or where to build new roads and other infrastructure.
The total number of North Carolinians fell short of the 10.6 million residents demographers estimated based on the last decennial census, along with adjustments based on intervening surveys, voter records and driver’s license registrations. U.S. census results released Monday say 10,439,388 people were included in last year’s count, which tallies people where they lived as of April 1, 2020.
The largest contributor to North Carolina’s population was “net migration,” or more people moving here than people moving away, said state demographer Michael Cline.
“North Carolina is a beautiful place to be. That’s reflected in our population numbers,” Cline said.
About two-thirds of the state’s growth is from net migration, he said, although Monday’s numbers won’t show that. The Census Bureau will release more data in the coming months.
That North Carolina would gain a seat in the House of Representatives was predicted by demographers for years. The state nearly qualified for a 14th seat after the 2010 census, said Chris Cooper, a redistricting expert and professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University.
Each of the state’s 14 congressional districts must have nearly the same number of people in them, Cooper said. But now it’s impossible to tell where the boundaries will go until the state receives more data.
That will come in mid-August, when the bureau will release data to state legislatures related to redistricting numbers. That includes race, ethnicity, voting-age population and populations down to the block level, Cline said. Those figures will be released to the public in late September.
“It’s hard to know what the new maps will look like. It’s going to wreak havoc for the 2021 elections, but also perhaps 2022,” Cooper said.
For instance, people who run for congressional seats don’t have to actually live in those districts, but those running for seats in the N.C. General Assembly must live within their district, Cooper said.
Though the state’s population increased by 9.5%, not all areas of the state saw growth, he said.
“There’s no doubt that parts of the state also lost population,” Cooper said. “That’s the stuff we don’t know yet until the better data comes out.”
Methods for redrawing districts vary by state, and in North Carolina, the state legislature draws the new congressional and legislative district lines. In some states the governor gets veto power over the eventual maps. Not so in North Carolina.
“At the end of all of this, we are going to have litigation almost no matter what,” said Cooper, who is not related to Gov. Roy Cooper.
He predicts there will be maps ready by 2022, “but it’s going to be a painful process to get there because the consequences, the notion of not having new district lines” is so large. Without accepted district lines, the state would be down a representative in Congress, he said.
In raw numbers, Texas, Florida, California, Georgia and Washington added more residents to their states than North Carolina, which jumped one position to the ninth-most populous state since a decade ago. Georgia remains ahead of North Carolina in population by more than a quarter million people.
State Sen. Warren Daniel, one of three chairmen for the state Senate’s redistricting and elections committee, said in an emailed statement that the announcement confirms what many expected.
“We look forward to building upon the redistricting process we developed in 2019, which was praised for being the most transparent redistricting process in our state’s history and created fair, nonpartisan maps,” he wrote.
The process was not always public or transparent, and it only came to this point after multiple lawsuits and court rulings. North Carolina’s strangely shaped congressional districts were often held up as prime examples of gerrymandering or as the butt of late-night television jokes.
The N.C. General Assembly’s approved maps in 2011 favored Republicans along racial lines, a three-judge panel ruled in 2016. The state appealed and in 2017 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that race was used to draw two of the districts.
The Republican-led General Assembly shifted strategies to draw districts along political lines, and voters again sued. The eventual court ruling forced the General Assembly to hold public hearings and draw maps in public.
Of the three chairmen on the Senate side, all three are Republican. The chairman of the state House redistricting committee is a Republican. Two Republicans and one Democrat serve as vice chairmen.
Carolina Public Press is an independent, in-depth and investigative nonprofit news service for North Carolina. Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at [email protected].