New York loses congressional seat in reapportionment -- by a margin of 89 people

Shannon Stapleton/Pool via AP

Today was the day the Census Bureau announced its decennial results, the most important of which had to do with population shifts from state to state since 2010. Those shifts determine the apportionment of House seats — and electoral votes — for the next decade. For Republicans it was a mixed bag: Red states gained more seats than they lost but Texas and Florida were each expected to gain more than they actually did (two seats and one seat, respectively). The breakdown:

Arizona was expected to pick up a seat too, likely at the expense of Rhode Island, but in the end fell short. Trump 2020 states netted three electoral votes in all, although given how tight North Carolina has been in the last few elections, that one could yet go blue in 2024. As for House seats, that’s trickier since the state legislature gets to decide how to redraw district lines and whichever party controls the legislature is destined to target the other. So even though California is losing a seat, that may come at the GOP’s expense. Cali’s solidly Democratic state lawmakers will obviously look to squeeze some vulnerable Republican out with the new district map instead of one of their own.

The big news today had to do with New York, though. Andrew Cuomo’s state was neck-and-neck with Minnesota on which of the two would have to cough up a House district due to slowing population growth. In the end it came down to just 89 people out of a total combined population of 26 million across the two states. Which raises an ominous possibility: Did Cuomo’s horrible mismanagement of New York’s initial outbreak last spring cost his state an electoral vote and a House seat? Realistically there’s no way that it didn’t, is there? New York’s lost more than 50,000 people to COVID and was seeing around 800 deaths per day last spring at its peak. Minnesota’s seen a little more than 7,000 deaths all told since last March.

There’s a related factor. The ferocious first wave of COVID may have scared enough New Yorkers into moving to states like Florida and Texas that the net population loss cost them. The census count is based on where someone resided on April 1, 2020, which was when New York was in the thick of its outbreak. When the margin’s as thin as 89 people, virtually any deterrent to remaining in the state is potentially decisive. And that first wave in New York was a strong deterrent.

Given how many claims of sexual harassment against him there are now, maybe Cuomo simply chased 89 women out of the state through his own bad behavior.

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 710,767; the 2020 number wasn’t readily apparent Monday afternoon. 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…

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.

You gotta fill out the form! Philip Bump of WaPo noted that New York and Minnesota filled out the form at different rates, which may also help account for the 89-person margin. Although of course the pandemic played a role too:

What if [New York’s] self-response rate for completing the census had been better than 64 percent, especially given that Minnesota’s was 75 percent? The bureau is confident that it counted at least 99.9 percent of both states — but the difference in 99.9 percent of New York and 99.9 percent of Minnesota is more than 14,000 people.

What if New York hadn’t been hit so hard by the coronavirus pandemic right out of the gate? As Minnesota Public Radio’s David Montgomery pointed out, by April 1 — the date on which the count is focused — New York was already recording far more deaths from covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, than was Minnesota. According to The Washington Post’s data, New York had lost 2,553 residents to Minnesota’s 17 by that date.

There may be yet another reason why New York narrowly lost out. The census traditionally has undercounted Latinos, partly due to the language barrier and partly because households that contain illegal immigrants are suspicious of filling out the form, fearing that it might be used to identify and deport their relatives. Lo and behold, the states that underperformed in today’s census results have something in common:

New York’s population growth may have been greater than Minnesota’s after all but the greater share of Latinos in NY may have led to relatively more forms not being filled out. Result: New York loses a seat. And as much as righties may enjoy that outcome, it may also explain why Texas and Florida ended up gaining only three seats between them instead of five. They also have large Latino populations. I wonder what percentage of those populations tossed their census form when they got it.