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Early census results show Michigan losing congressional clout

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The final numbers are still on their way, but initial data from the U.S. Census Bureau offers a glimpse at population trends across the country. In Michigan, the state’s population has grown at a slower rate than that of states in other parts of the country. And that means the state is set to lose a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Stateside talked to John Lindstrom, the former publisher of Gongwer News Service, about how the new census data could affect Michigan’s future political landscape.

Wait — did Michigan’s population get smaller in the past decade?

Nope. It just didn’t grow as fast as the populations in states like Texas, which will be gaining two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, or Florida, which will gain one seat. In general, states in the South and West grew the most and gained seats accordingly. This is the fifth consecutive census that Michigan’s congressional delegation has shrunk, according to Lindstrom.

“It's quite a striking, striking change in terms of the state's overall strength, and not just Michigan, but the Midwest's overall strength. The Midwest grew slower than any other region in the country," Lindstrom said.

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How many electoral votes are we talking about here?

Michigan will now have 15 electoral votes instead of 16 — two in the U.S. Senate and 13 in the U.S. House of Representatives. That number used to be much higher. Lindstrom says that, from the 1962 election to the 1980 election, the state had 21 electoral votes, with 19 representatives in the House.

So is one of Michigan’s elected officials supposed to just give up their seat?

Lindstrom says it doesn’t look like any of Michigan’s current representatives will take this opportunity to retire from public service. So, he says, the state’s new independent redistricting commission will likely need to navigate this change in representation as they draw up new congressional and legislative district maps for the state.

“If the redistricting process had gone on as it has for the last 40 or so years, it's pretty clear what would have happened. You have a Legislature who was under Republican control. They would have obviously drawn a map that axed out a Democrat. The governor would have vetoed that plan. You would have had a fight,” he said.

But because the state now has an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, Lindstrom says it’s hard to predict how the redistricting process could affect which elected officials will remain in Congress.

Why don’t we know exactly what will happen next?

Lindstrom says redrawing congressional and legislative boundaries was already going to be a complicated task, and it’s a little more challenging now that the state will be losing a representative in Congress. Because the redistricting commission is still working through how to redraw state maps, there’s a lot that’s still up in the air.

“Until they start processing the actual numbers, until we actually see what the census tracts show — and that won't come for some number of months yet — we really won't know how this can be resolved,” Lindstrom said.

How would the new set of representatives be determined?

Lindstrom says it depends. There could be a primary runoff, or two incumbents could face one another in a general election. But, he adds, this isn’t the first time the state has faced a reshuffling in its elected officials after the release of new census data.

“Even when we had 19 representatives, you ran into this occasionally,” he said. “In the Oakland County area, after the 1970 Census, you found two Republican incumbents forced together and ended up running against each other in a primary, even though the state didn't lose any representatives at that time. So this is just the luck of the draw.”

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Nell Ovitt.

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Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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