AKRON — Ohio is one of 10 states – mainly across the Rust Belt – likely to lose seats in the House of Representatives following the 2020 census this month.
Projections show one of the Buckeye State’s 16 congressional districts will be eliminated when the 435 House seats are divided up to reflect the new state population counts.
As a result, Ohio will lose federal dollars and political power, say politicians and public policy experts.
“If you lose representation in Congress, you have less people there to advocate for programs of importance,” said Wendy Patton, an expert on state funding from the nonprofit Policy Matters Ohio.
Patton said those federal funds are used to pay for the state’s highways, education, domestic violence shelters and health care programs.
How it works
House seats are assigned through a process formally called “reapportionment” – based on state populations reported by the Census Bureau.
Each state automatically gets one district. The remaining 385 seats will be assigned, and new district lines drawn with the goal of having each district have roughly the same number of people.
While the math of reapportionment is complex, the bottom line is easy to understand: more populous states get more seats; less populous states get fewer seats.
The projections, which are based on the Census Bureau’s annual population estimates, show the big winners will be Texas, which stands to gain three seats, and Florida, which would gain two. Other Sunbelt and Western states getting more districts are Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon.
In addition to Ohio, seven other states in the Northeast would lose seats: Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia.
Only one Southern state, Alabama, and one Western state, California, are expected to lose districts.
The movement of people out of the Northeast is a near century-long trend.
“I think it’s really a continuation of what we’ve seen since 1930,” Kimball Brace, the president of Election Data Services, told Politico in December. “It is a movement away from the Northeast and the Upper Midwest to the South and to the West.”
This is not the first time Ohio, traditionally a powerful swing state on the national political scene, has seen its congressional delegation shrink.
The state lost at least one seat following each of the last five censuses since 1960, when it peaked at 24.
It’s not that Ohio is shrinking in population — it’s just not growing as fast as many other states.
Since 2010, the Buckeye State’s population increased by about 1.3 percent, to an estimated 11.7 million last year, according to the Census Bureau. Over those same nine years, Texas’ population shot up by more than 15 percent – nearly 12 times faster.
The reapportionment process doesn’t end when the House seats are assigned. The states still must remap all the districts in preparation for the 2022 elections.
Ohio’s redistricting will be watched closely to determine the effectiveness of Issue 1, a ballot initiative overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2018 that aims to curb gerrymandering, the practice of drawing convoluted district lines to benefit one political party.
Critics say Ohio is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. They blame Republican lawmakers’ exclusive control of redistricting following the 2010 census as a big reason for the lopsided results of Ohio’s congressional elections. In 2018, for example, GOP House candidates garnered little more than half the total votes but won 12 – three-quarters – of the state’s 16 districts.
Supporters of Issue 1 cited Summit County as an example of how gerrymandering works.
With a population of more than a half-million, the traditionally Democratic county has enough voters to dominate a congressional district.
But the maps drawn by Republican lawmakers divided Summit County among four House districts – packing many of Akron’s voters into districts mainly representing Cleveland and Youngstown and dividing the county’s other voters into the more suburban and rural 14th and 16th districts, where Republicans are the majority.
As a result, “none of the four members of Congress who represent Summit County lives in the county,” noted a 2017 WKSU series, “Gerrymandering: Shading the Lines.”
Ohio’s expected loss of a House seat will raise the stakes in the redistricting process. But not everyone agrees that will happen.
“We don’t know if we will be losing a seat yet or not,” Ohio Republican Party Communications Director Evan Machan said. “We won’t know until after the census.”
Ohio could keep all 16 districts if the census finds about 120,000 more people than projected.
How likely is it that the estimates are that wrong?
To investigate that possibility, the Census Bureau’s 2000-to-2009 estimates were used to project a 2010 population for Ohio and that number was compared to the 2010 census. The result: The bureau overestimated the actual census count by about 16,000 residents – about 0.1 percent.
Saving Ohio’s seat would require an underestimation error rate nearly 10 times bigger.
Jeffrey Howison, demographer for Ohio State’s Office of Research Development Services Agency, agreed that the Census Bureau has a good record for accuracy.
“By all reports that I’ve seen I think Ohio will most likely lose a seat in 2020,” he said.