Colorado is projected to gain a seat in Congress. Here’s why that’s a huge deal.

Data shows the state's population has jumped by nearly three-quarters of a million people over the past decade

Colorado is projected to gain a U.S. House seat in the coming years — a change that would increase the state’s influence in national politics and could lead to more money for federally funded projects. (Photo credit: adamkaz/Getty Images)
Colorado is projected to gain a U.S. House seat in the coming years — a change that would increase the state’s influence in national politics and could lead to more money for federally funded projects. (Photo credit: adamkaz/Getty Images)

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

The Centennial State is one of seven “gaining states” on a list compiled by Election Data Services, a political consulting firm. The list based on recent data from 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.

Colorado’s population has jumped by nearly three-quarters of a million people over the past decade and is now estimated at nearly 6 million, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data.

As a result, the state’s congressional delegation may rise from seven to eight members in the U.S. House.

Colorado is not unlike other states in the South and West, several of which are also projected to win more seats, according to Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services.

States in the Midwest and Northeast, meanwhile, are projected to lose seats because their populations are not growing as fast.

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 Trump administration’s support for and effectiveness in undertaking the massive decennial census, the public’s response to it and the implications of national events, such as natural disasters, Brace said in a statement.

A full and 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.”

‘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 Coloradans, 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. 

“The state already gets a fair amount of attention in presidential contests,” said Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver. “If it gets 10 [seats], it becomes that much more interesting.”

An additional House seat would likely lead to more influence in Congress and more money for the state, said Chris Warshaw, a professor of political science at The George Washington University. 

Census data 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. And studies show that the number of seats a state has in Congress affects how much money it gets from the federal government, Warshaw said.

New maps

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

Masket predicted that a new district might be drawn in the Denver metropolitan area as a result of population gains — a move that could benefit Democrats, given the area’s progressive tilt.

But the partisan effects are difficult to predict, he said — especially given the state’s new approach to redistricting.

Related: Colorado’s new redistricting laws could offer a model for the nation

In 2018, voters approved an initiative to create independent redistricting panels to approve maps for members of Congress and the state legislature. The commissions drawing congressional and legislative maps will have 12 members — four Democrats, four Republicans, and four unaffiliated voters. To approve a map, a supermajority of eight commission members, including two who are unaffiliated, would have to sign off.

At this point, it’s unclear who will be on the commission or how they will decide to divvy up the population, Masket said. But he noted that “there’s a good chance they’ll prioritize competitiveness.”

Allison Stevens is an independent reporter, writer, editor, and consultant in the Washington, D.C., area. She is a correspondent for The Newsroom's Washington bureau and can be reached at astevens@statesnewsroom.com.

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