New Census Projections Show RI To Lose U.S. House Seat

Dec 21, 2016

U.S. Capitol Building
Credit Bill Koplitz / Creative Commons License

Rhode Island is likely to lose one of its two U.S. House seats after the 2020 U.S. Census, according to projections by reapportionment guru Kimball W. Brace, who has for many years helped Rhode Island lawmakers draw both state legislative and congressional districts.

This comes as scant surprise to Rhode Island political insiders and the local gang of 500 that follows such news. House seats are based on population, while each state gets two senators, regardless of how many people live in a state.

The new census data cited by Brace shows that Rhode Island will lose the seat because the state’s population is fairly stagnant while other states in the sunbelt and west gain population, which translates to more seats and clout in the House.

Both of the Ocean State seats are held by Democrats – David Cicilline in the 1st District and James Langevin in the 2nd. Langevin has more seniority than Cicilline and serves on a committee that is of more importance to the state’s economy – House Armed Services. But the politics of having just one House lawmaker have not boiled off yet and won’t for a few more years. Either Cicilline or Langevin could decide against running again. Or they could face off in a primary. And Republicans could decide that a credible GOP candidate would have better chance statewide than in the individual districts. The 1st Congressional seat held by Cicilline is particularly Democratic leaning, running from Woonsocket, down the Blackstone Valley, through very blue Providence neighborhoods, including the East Side and South Side, and down the east border of Narragansett Bay to Newport.

The change would make Rhode Island and Vermont the lone two New England states with just one House member. If the Vermont experience is any guide, what this does is give the holder of the single House seat a leg up in a Senate race. Bernie Sanders and Republicans Robert Stafford and Jim Jeffords, who later became an independent who caucused with Democrats, like Sanders, all served as the lone congressman before ascending to the U.S. Senate.

The 2010 census kept Rhode Island at two seats, but with only about 50,000 people to spare. The 2016 numbers, Brace said, drop that number to 5,569 in population, which is almost sure to drop the state to one U.S. representative for the first time since the beginning of the nation in 1789.

Rhode Island, Brace said, would join seven other states having a single House representative. Besides Vermont, those states are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

The new data, Brace projects, would have Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona and perhaps Montana, picking up seats. Losers, along with Rhode Island, include the northeast and Rust Belt states of Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, along with West Virginia and Alabama.

The census House changes would also have an impact on the Electoral College. That’s because the electoral college is based on the number of representatives and senators in each state. Thus, Rhode Island would drop from four electoral votes to three.

A meeting is scheduled for January 12 at the Community College of Rhode Island’s Warwick campus to discuss the census estimates and apportionment projections. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the Bobby Hackett Theater.