Making sense of the Census

Remember all the fuss about Ohio in the 2004 election? Had he been running on the new electoral map, released yesterday by the Census Bureau, George W. Bush could have won re-election without even carrying Ohio.

That's not to say that Ohio doesn't matter anymore, or that any Republican will have it easy running against President Obama in 2012. Bush had to defeat Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, in several hard-fought swing states — Iowa, New Mexico, Florida, Nevada, Arizona, and Missouri — to get his 286 electoral votes, which translates to 292 electoral votes on the new map. Obama's large victory would still hold up, although the margin would have been 12 votes smaller.

But the point is that the new electoral map is a bit gentler for the GOP, and a bit tougher for President Obama's re-election effort.

Every 10 years, the Census counts America's population to determine which states gain and lose representation in Congress and in the Electoral College. In this process of “reapportionment,” states that don't keep up with national population growth are in danger of losing clout.

This time, the count is full of good news for whatever Republican eventually takes on President Obama in 2012. Solidly red states like Texas (+4 electoral votes), Utah (+1), Georgia (+1) and South Carolina (+1) all gained electoral votes and seats in the House of Representatives. Louisiana, after two devastating hurricanes, is the only reliably Republican state at the presidential level to lose representation (-1).

On net, that means the GOP can take six more extra electoral votes to the bank next year than in 2008. That's like winning an extra Arkansas without even trying.

Meanwhile, several deep-blue states lost ground, including New York (-2), Massachusetts (-1), Illinois (-1), Pennsylvania (-1), New Jersey (-1) and Michigan (-1). Only one reliably Democratic state — Washington (+1) — gained representation. On net, Democrats can bank on six fewer electoral votes.

Swing states had mixed results — some will be more significant than before, and others less. Ohio lost two electoral votes, while Iowa and Missouri each lost one. Florida gained two, and Arizona and Nevada each gained one. For the first time, Florida and New York are equals in the electoral college.

The process of reapportionment is more complicated than you might expect. It's not just a matter of dividing the population by 435 U.S. House members and hoping for the best.

After each state gets its mandatory first seat, a mathematical formula distributes the other 385. (For those who love math, you divide a state's population by the square root of its current number of seats times the number it would have if given one more. Do that for all 50, and the state that produces the largest result is next in line to get a seat.) If Congress passed a law to expand itself, then this formula could continue awarding as many seats as you like, and in the best proportion possible. California would get an additional 16 seats before Maine got even one.

This year, the formula gave Minnesota the 435th seat, which means they barely missed losing a district. North Carolina was in line for seat 436 — too bad for them. Rhode Island continues to be the most overrepresented state in Congress (528,000 people per district) and Montana the most underrepresented (nearly a million people in just one district).

Neither reapportionment nor even redistricting — the process of drawing the lines, which Republicans will control in most states — will usher in a new, permanent majority for anyone. But it will tilt the playing field in the Republicans' direction as they seek to take the presidency and preserve their new House majority.

David Freddoso is The Examiner's online opinion editor. He can be reached at dfreddoso@washingtonexaminer.com.

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