Politics and Government

Census: Minnesota keeps all 8 U.S. House seats, barely

Cloud hang over the U.S. Capitol building.
Clouds pass over the U.S. Capitol Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The Census will roll out state-by-state population figures Monday afternoon, including numbers that may cost Minnesota a seat in Congress.
Joshua Roberts | Getty Images

Updated: 5:15 p.m.

Minnesota will keep its eight U.S. House seats — by the skin of its teeth.

The 2020 census found Minnesota had 5,709,752 residents as of April 1, 2020. That put it a mere 89 people, or 0.0016 percent of its population, ahead of New York state for the 435th and final seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Many experts thought Minnesota would lose one of its seats because other states were growing more quickly, in the zero-sum race for the 435 seats in the House. Instead, it held on to the last seat in Congress by the narrowest margin recorded since at least 1940.

“It's a big win,” said Marcia Avner, who was part of census outreach in Minnesota for the Minnesota Council on Foundations. “Wow. I think the popular emoji today is the one that shows the little character sweating, because that's really close.”

Graphic: Minnesota keeps its 8th House seat by a record-thin margin.

The narrow result could preempt a game of political musical chairs next year, which would have pitted incumbent representatives against each other for Minnesota’s shrunken number of seats.

But even with no change in the number of seats, Minnesota’s congressional map will have to be redrawn to account for changes in population within the state.

The Twin Cities metro area has been growing more quickly than rural Minnesota, which means lines will need to be redrawn to equalize the districts’ populations.

Census officials didn’t release any population data below the state level Monday. They’ve promised to release that data by Sept. 30, for states to use in the redistricting process.

Minnesota had the highest response rate in the nation to the Census.

“I want to thank Minnesotans for their nation-leading civic engagement,” said Gov. Tim Walz in a statement. “Because of that participation, we will be fully represented in Washington and will have access to federal resources we need to improve our infrastructure, fund our schools, and support our health care system.”

Explaining the upset

The shockingly small margin by which Minnesota held on to its eighth seat in Congress means any number of factors could have contributed to the upset.

Minnesota began prepping for the 2020 census years ahead of time, and appropriated around $2 million or more to fund work aimed at counting as many Minnesotans as possible.

“We knew that we were at risk of losing a congressional seat,” Avner said. “When you look at the very carefully designed grassroots work in the usually underrepresented communities, we did everything it was possible to do to reach all the communities in Minnesota, multiple times, with messages that were compelling to their community-level interests.”

The COVID-19 pandemic’s disruptive effect on the 2020 census means it’s possible the census undercounted more people in some parts of the country than others.

More morbidly, since the census represents population as of April 1, 2020, it’s possible that the early COVID-19 wave to hit New York might have cost the state a congressional seat, and thus saved Minnesota’s. As of April 1, New York had reported 447 COVID-19 deaths, while Minnesota had just 17.

Another factor impacting the results could have included President Donald Trump’s attempts to add a question about citizenship to the census. That question was ultimately blocked by the United States Supreme Court, but some critics feared the publicity might have discouraged immigrants from participating, lowering counts in certain areas.

Even if these factors had minor impacts on the count, the narrowness of the 89-person margin means even a minor factor could have caused the difference.

What comes next

It’s possible New York could file a lawsuit challenging the census count and apportionment of congressional seats. Twenty years ago, Utah sued after alleging the census cost it a congressional seat by undercounting many Utah residents working as missionaries overseas, although it ultimately lost at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Once the U.S. Census Bureau provides detailed block-level population counts later this year, lawmakers will get to work drafting plans for a new congressional map, as well as maps for districts in the state Legislature.

Minnesota’s eight congressional seats are currently evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

Members of the DFL Party represent the state’s four urban and suburban districts, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th districts. Republicans represent the exurban 6th District and the largely rural 1st, 7th and 8th districts. 

But with the state Senate controlled by Republicans and Democrats holding the House and the governor’s office, it’s quite possible the two sides will be unable to agree on a redistricting plan. If that’s the case, the courts would likely draw new boundaries.

That’s become almost the norm in Minnesota, which has tended to have divided government in redistricting years. The last time Minnesota passed a redistricting plan into law by passing a law through the Legislature and having it signed by the governor was 1960.

Minnesota did dodge one potentially wild scenario by holding on to its eighth seat in Congress: the prospect of all seven seats in Congress being elected at-large statewide. That was only on the table if Minnesota lost a seat.

Watch U.S. Census Bureau officials on the latest changes to U.S. House representation:

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