A second seat and another electoral college vote
Public participation is a part of the process
After the release of the first set of 2020 census data, it was recognized that with the state’s population growth, Montana will receive a second congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives has 435 seats total, and each state must have at least one seat. After the first 50 are assigned, a formula based on a state’s total population and number of potential seats is used to determine how many more a state may receive. The idea is that each district in each state represents about the same amount of people. Currently, each member of the House represents more than 700,000 people.
Per the constitution, the primary purpose of the decennial census is to reset the balance of power in the House and electoral college. Subsequently, census data is used to redraw congressional and state legislative districts and allocate funding.
“We use the data to make sure the economy is working for everyone,” Gina M. Raimondo, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, said during the press release on April 26 when the Bureau announced census data. Raimondo went on to cite quantity of teachers, funding for public housing, locations of businesses or health clinics and where to build new roads as examples of what census data can be used for.
After complications to outreach projects spearheaded by the Census Bureau (Bureau) due to the coronavirus pandemic and pressure on the Bureau by the Trump Administration to produce results quickly, the first batch of information was received and consists of each state’s population and if they gained or lost seats in the House.
The United States’ population, as of the 2020 census, is 331,449,281. According to the Bureau, this was a 7.4% increase from the 2010 census but the second slowest growth rate in U.S. history.
Montana was ranked seventh out of ten in the least populated states in the nation, but a population of 1,085,407 got us a second seat in the House. According to the Office of the Governor, this was a 10% increase in population since 2010. When Montana lost its second seat in 1993, following the 1990 census, the population only grew 1.6% from 1980-1990.
In order to redraw congressional and state legislative districts, the second set of census data is needed. This set will include data on age, race, ethnicity, sex and population numbers broken down to cities, towns and rural areas. The Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission (Commission) is tasked with redrawing these boundaries.
This Commission is made up of two commissioners from each political party and a fifth commissioner, the presiding officer, either appointed by the commissioners or the Montana Supreme Court if the commissioners are unable to reach a consensus. The current Commission—in which the fifth commissioner was chosen by the Montana Supreme Court and then replaced after they resigned due to health reasons—will finish their redistricting task and then dissolve in 2023. A new Commission will be selected in 2029 before the next census.
What makes this year’s census data more complicated is that the Commission will have the ability to use one of two sets of second batch data—the first is expected to be released mid-August and would be in a format that requires more experienced data analysis to sift through. The second set of second batch data is expected by Sept. 30 and is more user-friendly. Either way, the Commission will have a 90-day deadline to redistrict once they choose which second set to utilize. Typically, the data is just released once.
The two congressional districts must be divided into districts of relatively equal populations. Commissioners will determine the process of redistricting over a set of meetings in the next couple of months. These new districts will be set when Montana elects its members of the House in 2022.
As far as state legislative districts go, these changes must be submitted in a regular legislative session, which in this case will happen in 2023. The legislature may make recommendations to the Commissioners regarding the districts, but the Commission is not required to adhere to the legislature’s changes. After legislative review, final maps could be completed in the winter of 2023.
Filing for the House position will open January 2022. The new state legislative districts will be utilized during the 2024 election season.
For the 2024 election, Montana will also have an additional electoral college seat after gaining a second seat in the House. States receive an electoral college vote for each senator and congressperson they have.
As goes with any type of commission meeting, the public has an opportunity to participate in the redistricting process. Meeting dates and updated district maps will be posted on the Commission’s website and the public can sign up to get email updates as the process moves along. Individuals may also submit comments on the website.
As public hearings are determined and dates are provided to the public, these will also serve as opportunities for public opinion to be expressed.