Census Figures Could Launch Redistricting Wars

The figures out Tuesday from the Census Bureau are just the first batch of numbers to come from the 2010 count. More detailed information about race and neighborhood populations isn't due out for another few months. That's the data state lawmakers will use to redraw their congressional districts. And that redistricting process is sure to cause partisan battles. For more, NPR's Audie Cornish talks to Tim Storey, a senior fellow and elections analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

As we heard from Pam, this is just the first batch of numbers to come from the Census Bureau's 2010 count. More detailed information about race and neighborhood populations isn't due out for another few months. That's the data state lawmakers will use to redraw their congressional districts. And that redistricting process is sure to cause partisan battles.

For more, we're joined by Tim Storey. He's a senior fellow and elections analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures. Tim, welcome to the program.

Mr. TIM STOREY (Senior Fellow and Elections Analyst, National Conference of State Legislatures): Pleasure to be with you, Audie.

CORNISH: So, what we've heard today is that there's a continuing trend in the population growth in Republican-leaning states. But how significant is this really when it comes to political power?

Mr. STOREY: Well, it's clearly a shift of that, you know, influence in Washington from some of the Great Lakes states in the Northeast to some of the South and Southern and Western states. So those states will have a greater voice in the U.S. House of Representatives. There also will be a slight gain for the GOP in the Electoral College in the race for the White House in 2012 and beyond.

But, you know, there really weren't any huge surprises in the data released this morning. And the advantage in terms of just the pure apportionment numbers is not really dramatic, although there are a couple of things that jump out, like Texas.

CORNISH: What are some of the other things that jump out in terms of the losing states, then?

Mr. STOREY: Well, I think the fact that New York lost two seats. A lot of people thought they would only lose one, maybe two seats. And what's really interesting is that, you know, Florida gained two seats. So now, for the first time in history, Florida and New York have the same size delegation, the sort of same level of influence in the U.S. House of Representatives. Both of them now have 27 members of the U.S. House as a result of the apportionment numbers that were released, and somewhat symbolic of that continuing shift of political power and population from the Northeast to the South and to the West.

And some of the states that gained were actually states that Obama won in 2008, places like Nevada, Florida and Washington. So, it wasn't a total sweep in terms of a political prism. It wasn't a total sweep for the GOP. There were some bright spots for Democrats as well.

CORNISH: And of course this is the first step in the process of redrawing congressional districts. Which states do we see a particularly heated battle on the horizon?

Mr. STOREY: Well, I hate to say this, but I think there will be heated battles in just about every state. But certainly the intensity gets ratcheted up in the states that gain or lose congressional seats. So I'm sure in Texas today, which gained four seats in the new apportionment data, there are probably several hundred politicians and others who think they've now got a congressional seat with their name on it in Texas and so that's going to be pretty intense.

And in some of the places that are losing seats, I'm sure every member of Congress now has a target on their back. In places like Illinois and New York and Ohio, which is losing two seats - New York losing two seats. So, those are the places where the redistricting war is going to be particularly intense. But it can be pretty acrimonious in just about every state.

CORNISH: And you said lawmakers who might have a target on their back, you're referring to folks who, their district may be in trouble, it may be in danger of going away?

Mr. STOREY: Well, you know, redistricting is an extraordinarily political process no matter who draws the lines. There are a handful of states where there's a commission that draws the lines. Some of those are more partisan than others. But in most places, the legislature and the governor have that authority. And it's really a legislative effort in most cases.

The Republicans made substantial gains in the 2010 elections. They now find themselves, really, in the best position for this coming redistricting cycle that they've been in in the modern era of redistricting, going back to the 1960s. So in places like Ohio where the Republicans control everything, they're going to be in the driver's seat and Democratic members of Congress are probably a lot more nervous than they were before the data was released this morning because their districts could literally disappear.

CORNISH: And is there anything you can do if you're a state that's losing a seat? I mean, can you fight this process?

Mr. STOREY: Not really. I mean, I think litigation is inevitable, but the Census Bureau and the Commerce Department have been very successful in defending their methodology. So these are almost certainly the final numbers. Now you just got to figure out how to deal with it.

CORNISH: That's Tim Storey, senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures. Tim, thanks so much.

Mr. STOREY: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

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