With three months until “Census Day,” Florida is very likely to pick up two new congressional members and has an outside chance of gaining a third.
With 21.48 million Floridians estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau on Monday, the Sunshine State is already expected to see an increase in federal funding and political clout in the coming years because of its growing population. Florida jumped New York several years ago to become the third most-populous state and appears safely in line to see its U.S. House delegation get bumped from 27 members to 29 members after the 2020 Census.
The big question for Jacksonville is whether the First Coast will get an additional representative.
"There might potentially be one to sneak in there. But there are so many variables at play, it's really hard to know for sure," said Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida.
The chances of Florida's picking up a third new congressional seat are slim, but they have improved, according to the Virginia-based political consulting firm Election Data Services, known as EDS.
With the latest annual population estimates, the firm, which analyzes census and political data, estimates Florida is 172,169 people away from a third additional seat.
It may be a large number, but a year ago Florida was 366,735 people away from a third new seat, per EDS’ calculations.
EDS said the change resulted, in part, from storms like Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017 and led people to move from the island to Florida.
Overall, Florida’s nearly 640-person-a-day growth during the past year was second only to Texas'. Texas has had the largest jump in new residents over the past year.
Every 10 years, the distribution of congressional seats across the country is tweaked based on population changes. Some states gain seats, others lose them, and many remain the same. The 2020 Census will be conducted this spring, based on the numbers as of April 1, Census Day.
But Binder and EDS pointed out, it remains to be seen how involved Floridians will be in the head count.
EDS noted that Texas and Florida have not appropriated funds for what are known as “complete count” efforts aimed at getting people to respond to the Census.
Binder said that may be due to politics.
“This is a catch-22 in some ways. If you're the Republican Legislature and you're in control of the Legislature, obviously you're going to be excited about more congressional seats, because it gives you an opportunity to redraw the lines and potentially gerrymander some seats and gain additional congressional seats. The downside of that is a lot of places where Florida is seeing population growth, like Orlando, like Tampa, like Miami, they tend to be more Democratic regions of the state," he said.
Binder said one of the existing seats that the Legislature will look at is District 5, which has a large African American and Democratic block of voters. The seat is currently held by Democratic Rep. Al Lawson. His district stretches all the way from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee.
“What's happening is you're packing a lot of Democrats into a single seat. And Republicans are essentially saying, ‘Okay, we'll give you this seat, but we'll pack all these Democrats in there,’ and that leaves the surrounding seats much more likely to be Republicans. Maybe they could pick up two or three Republican seats, giving up one really heavily Democratic seat. So I wouldn't be surprised if a seat like that were to go away,” Binder said. “It’s going to ultimately come down to what happens in Tallahassee when they divvy up the seat and how they draw the lines.”
EDS President Kimball Brace asked in a written statement, “How well does the Census Bureau and the Trump administration put on the greatest mobilization of government resources outside of war time? How well will the public respond and answer the Census, given the competing focuses of everyday life and the need to utilize the internet? Will the fear of foreign intervention also impact the census?”
The Tallahassee-based group Florida TaxWatch has been highlighting the need for participation in the Census, warning that “if Florida is under-represented by the count, it could cost the state millions, or even billions, of dollars.”
Two Democratic state lawmakers, Sen. Bobby Powell of West Palm Beach and Rep. Anika Omphroy of Lauderdale Lakes, have filed proposals (SB 614 and HB 475) to set up a committee to encourage participation in the Census. The proposal is filed for the 2020 legislative session, which starts Jan. 14, but a similar effort failed to advance during the 2019 session.
The new congressional seats will take effect with the 2022 election cycle, after Florida reapportions its congressional and legislative districts.
EDS anticipates 10 seats to change hands over 17 states when the Census count is tabulated.
Right now, single seats would be picked up by Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon. Florida should get two and Texas should pick up three.
“You know, the more influence you have, that the better off your state will be,” said Binder.
Alabama, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia are projected to each lose a seat. Every other state would keep the status quo.