Michigan is expected to lose a seat in Congress. Here’s why that’s a huge deal.

Michigan congressional districts | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Michigan is projected to lose a U.S. House seat in the coming years, new data show — a change that would diminish the state’s influence in national politics and could lead to less money for federally- funded projects and services like roads and health care facilities.

The Wolverine State is one of 10 “losing states” on a list compiled by Election Data Services, a political consulting firm. It is based on data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau and projected population shifts through April 1, the date by which all people in U.S. households will be counted.

That’s not because the state is losing people; to the contrary, Michigan’s population has risen by more than 100,000 over the past decade. With nearly 10 million people as of last year, Michigan is the nation’s 10th most populous state.

But other states — particularly those in the Sun Belt — are growing faster.

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“We’re holding steady,” said Jowei Chen, professor of political science at the University of Michigan. But Texas and other states with large Hispanic populations are “really growing a lot.”

As a result, Michigan may drop from 14 to 13 members of the U.S. House — continuing a decades-long decline in congressional representation. The state had 19 House seats in 1970 — its high water mark — but has lost one or two House seats every decade since.

Michigan is not unlike its neighbors in the Midwest and Northeast, several of which are also projected to lose out to the South and West, according to Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services.

Under Brace’s projections, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon are expected to pick up one House seat next year; Florida would gain two; and Texas three. On the losing side are Alabama, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

But the projections are merely best guesses. The final count — and the subsequent apportionment of U.S. House members — will depend on the President Trump administration’s support for and effectiveness in undertaking the massive project, the public’s response to it and the implications of national events, such as natural disasters, Brace said in a statement.

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A full and perfectly precise accounting of the nation’s increasingly diverse and growing population — now estimated at some 330 million — is all but impossible.

Certain groups, such as people of color, homeless people, young children, immigrants and others have been undercounted in the past and may be so again. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the 2020 census could not include a question about citizenship status, but some are still wary of providing the government with personal information, according to Tom Wolf, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice.

Another unknown is how the nation’s first “online first” census will play out. Questions remain about whether the project’s internet platform will work and the degree to which people will respond, Wolf said. The census has been underfunded this decade and, as a result, hasn’t been tested as thoroughly as hoped, he said.

He also cited concerns about disinformation about the process on social media. “There are still significant questions about how everything will come together.”

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‘Reallocating political power’

The final count will be delivered to the president in December — after the elections this fall — and total population numbers will be available early next year. 

The results will have profound implications for Michiganders, in that they will determine who is represented in the nation’s political system and who gets what from the government. 

“The census is reallocating political power throughout the country,” Wolf said. “We’re not just talking about the political power of states. We’re also talking about the political power of communities throughout those states.”

Census data are used to apportion seats in Congress, which in turn determines states’ representation in the Electoral College — and their say in presidential elections. They are also used to determine how to distribute billions of dollars in federal funds to states, counties and communities for schools, roads, hospitals and other programs and services.

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The loss of another of Michigan’s House seats would likely lead to less influence in Congress and less money for the state, said Chris Warshaw, a professor of political science at The George Washington University. Studies show that the number of seats a state has in Congress affects how much money it gets from the federal government, he added.

That said, Michigan — which would still have a larger delegation than most other states — would still wield considerable influence in Congress and attract attention as a major battleground in presidential elections, Chen said. 

“At the end of the day, Michigan is still an extraordinarily important swing state.” 

New maps

The census results will also be used in redistricting, the process by which new congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn. 

In 2011, the Michigan GOP drew what Patrick Rodenbush — spokesman for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee — called one of the “most gerrymandered” maps in the country. Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterm elections, he said, won more votes in state legislative races, but the GOP nonetheless controls both chambers of the state Legislature.

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A federal court said the map was illegally rigged in favor of Republicans, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that federal courts can’t wade into fights over partisan gerrymandering.

This time around will be different, thanks to the creation of a new citizen redistricting commission, Chen said. 

The commission will comprise of 13 randomly selected registered voters — four who affiliate with the Democratic Party, four with the Republican Party and five who don’t affiliate with either party. As such, redistricting will no longer be under the power of politicians.

While the commission could completely redraw the districts, Corwin Smidt, professor of political science at Michigan State University, said mapmakers of the past have sought to change as little as possible when a seat is being eliminated to mitigate anger and confusion among voters — a model the commission could follow if the state loses a seat.

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Smidt warned of the difficulty of predicting the composition of future delegations, but pointed to a variety of possible scenarios, such as changes to districts in the northern and eastern parts of the state and in Wayne County and Grand Rapids. Detroit is a “mess,” he added. 

“Who knows what it will be redrawn like.”