Alabama at risk of losing a seat in Congress after 2020 census

Alabama House Delegation

Speculation has officially begun — Alabama is could lose one of its seven U.S. House seats after the 2020 U.S. Census, according to projections.

This could happen as the results of the census are used to divide 435 congressional seats and $675 billion in federal government funding a year. Over the past seven years, Alabama’s growth has slowed while the U.S. population has risen. If everyone in the state isn’t accounted for, Alabama could lose one of its seats.

What a lost seat means for Alabama

While the census is still three years away, political leaders across the state are starting to worry about what that the loss of a seat would mean for the Yellowhammer State.

“Alabama is in jeopardy of losing a congressperson,” Governor Kay Ivey told the Association of County Commissions of Alabama in August. “But more devastating than that could be the fact that we will lose federal funding.”

Ivey is referring to the more than $7.5 billion in federal funding the state receives each year.

Executive Director of the Arise Citizens’ Policy Project (ACPP), Kimble Forrister, agrees. The loss of federal funding could have devastating effects on the state.

“Alabama can’t afford to be undercounted in the upcoming Census,” said Forrister. “Investments in Medicaid, housing and transportation make Alabama a better place to live and work, and we need to ensure our state doesn’t get shortchanged on the federal funding that helps make those services possible.”

Losing a seat would also effect the state’s sway in the Electoral College during Presidential Elections considering the fact electors are tied to the number of representatives in Congress.

1920 Map of Alabama Districts
Alabama once boasted 10 House seats, from 1913 – 1933. This map is from 1920. [Photo Credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons via the University of Alabama Department of Geography]

The history of Alabama’s House seats

It’s been nearly half a century, since 1973, since the Yellowhammer State last lost a congressional seat, and well over a century, 144 years dating back to 1873, since it had fewer than seven representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives. But despite strong population growth between 2000 and 20100, the state’s growth has slowed the past seven years, putting a House seat in jeopardy.

Here’s the history of Alabama’s House seats:

  • 1818 – 1819: 1 non-voting delegate
  • 1819 – 1823: 1 seat
  • 1823 – 1833: 3 seats
  • 1833 – 1843: 5 seats
  • 1843 – 1863: 7 seats
  • 1863 – 1873: 6 seats
  • 1873 – 1893: 8 seats
  • 1893 – 1913: 9 seats
  • 1913 – 1933: 10 seats
  • 1933 – 1963: 9 seats
  • 1963 – 1973: 8 seats
  • 1973 – present: 7 seats

How Alabama reapportions a lost seat

Should Alabama lose a House seat, the state legislature would redraw the districts, as a regular statute, subject to gubernatorial veto by Ivey.

In 2011, Alabama’s legislative redistricting committee adopted guidelines to help streamline the process. The determined districts should be contiguous, reasonably compact, follow county lines where possible, and maintain communities of interest to the extent feasible; the committee further noted it would attempt to avoid contests between incumbents wherever possible.

All meetings of the reapportionment committee and its subcommittees will be open to the public and all plans presented at committee meetings will be made available to the public

As state lawmakers discuss possible redrawn maps, citizens will be also allowed to submit their own redistricting plans, using ESRI redistricting softwareAll meetings of the reapportionment committee and its subcommittees will be open to the public and all plans presented at committee meetings will be made available to the public.

2020 census deemed “high risk”

The 2020 Census has already been listed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as a “high risk” federal program.

“The bureau has not addressed several security risks and challenges to secure its systems and data, including making certain that security assessments are completed in a timely manner and that risks are at an acceptable level,” Eugene Dodaro, the US Comptroller General, said in a statement during a US Senate hearing last week.

Dodaro explained in order to save money, the 2020 census plans to heavily rely on technology, rather than canvassing and responses by mail. As part of this plan the GAO has identified 43 electronic systems that will be used in the 2020 census. According to Dodaro none of the systems have undergone the required security certification – and one, the code used to tabulate all the data, won’t even finish development until March 2019 at best.

Which is precisely why Ivey is pushing for local help come census time.

“I’m dead serious about this, folks. We need your help,” Ivey said in August reiterating the need of local involvement to ensure every state resident gets counted for in the census.

Her insistence is due to the fact that the difference between the state keeping or losing one of its House seats could come down to fewer than a thousand people, just as it did in Utah following the 2010 census.

2020 reapportionment prediction2020 reapportionment prediction map [Photo Credit: Election Data Services]