It’s too early to know how congressional redistricting in 2011 will play out in Missouri, but political scientists and analysts said it could change the state’s clout in Congress and its power in choosing the president.
Five years can be a political lifetime, because during that period Missouri will see a governor’s race and a presidential election.
Population projections from the U.S. Census Bureau predict Missouri’s growth will be less than the national rate, which means the state could potentially lose a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
If the state loses a congressional seat, it also loses a vote in the electoral college, which means Missouri would have less weight in deciding who will be president.
James Endersby, an MU associate professor of political science, said he believes Missouri will lose a congressional seat following the 2010 census. The job of redrawing congressional districts would fall to state legislators, and Endersby noted that state government itself will no doubt change by then.
“Especially with term limits, we don’t even know the people who will be making those plans,” he said.
If Missouri loses a seat, Endersby said, the state would not only lose that vote but direct representation in Congress would become weaker because there would be more people in each district.
After redistricting for the 2000 census, each of the nine congressional districts in Missouri had a population of about 620,000. Based on 2010 estimates, each of the nine districts would represent about 658,000 people, a population growth rate of about 5.8 percent.
But if Missouri lost a seat through redistricting, each of the eight projected districts would contain more than 740,000 people, a growth rate of 19 percent.
“Losing a congressional seat would almost be like adding one more person for every five residing in each district,” Endersby said.
An analysis released by POLIDATA, a Virginia based analysis group, predicted Missouri will lose a seat based on Census figures, which show slow growth since 2000.
“It’s a big event,” Clark Benson, a POLIDATA analyst, said. “I can’t guarantee it, but all indications are that Missouri will lose it.”
Endersby said he has a lot of confidence in the Census data being used to predict population trends. “You can almost always bet on it,” he said.
Currently Missouri has nine congressional districts but because national population determines how many seats, or districts, each state has, one of Missouri’s seats could be moved to a state with positive population growth.
Endersby said even population gains may not be enough to save Missouri’s district because the numbers must be relative to the rest of the country. “Of course, you can’t do anything about that,” Endersby said.
Spokesmen for the state Republican and Democratic parties said a lot of numbers can change before 2010.
“Obviously it’s still four years out, we haven’t had a chance to focus in on it because of the heavy election year next year,” Missouri Republican Party spokesman Paul Sloca said. “Typically there are rumors and people talking this far out.”
Scott Baker, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Columbia, said population analyses are guesswork based on trends. “We’ve heard speculation to that end, but that speculation has been around for as long as two years,” Baker said.
Population trends can change and a lot of things can come in to play, he said.
Endersby said both parties are probably thinking about the issue already and he has heard people speculate about which Missouri Congressional representative might lose their district. He declined to offer an opinion on who might be forced to leave office should the state lose one of its congressional districts.
Endersby said he has heard discussion about St. Louis possibly losing its district because the city’s population is moving west and Kansas City has been more successful at revitalizing its inner city.
“The changing population in St. Louis is the most influential,” Endersby said.
If the Census does not show enough population growth in Missouri to keep the existing districts, the process of redrawing the boundaries could begin by April 2011, Benson said.
In Missouri, the state legislature redraws the districts and the plan must be approved by the governor.
“Whatever party is in power will draw the lines,” Endersby said. “There will be a Republican plan and a Democrat plan and a bipartisan plan.”
The redistricting after the 2000 Census may have helped the shift to a Republican-led state, Endersby said. “The Republicans grew in the late 1990s but redistricting was a factor in the shift to power,” he said.