In the beginning, our forefathers said seats in the House of Representatives would be apportioned based on the whole number of people in each state, excepting untaxed American Indians. Recently, that’s been challenged by those proposing to count only citizens, not total people. They’ve failed so far. So what? It could make a difference to West Virginia. Here’s the scoop.
After the Civil War (1868), we amended the Constitution (14th Amendment, Section 2) to clarify that the apportionment of congressional seats would be based on the whole number of people in each state.
Not citizens. People.
Jeffrey W. Ladewig, a political scientist at the University of Connecticut, said, “It does not matter whether or not someone is a citizen, a voter, a minor or a felon.”
Even armed forces personnel and federal civilian employees outside the U.S. are counted at their usual residence, or where they live and sleep most of the time, not their assigned post.
Then, the number of people determines the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives. Divvying up the seats among states occurs every 10 years and is called apportionment.
The number of seats in the House, 435, isn’t defined in our Constitution. Rather, the number was chosen in the Reapportionment Act of 1929, and it has been ever since.
In 2015, two Texas voters brought a case to the Supreme Court arguing that Texas should divide its districts by the number of eligible voters, not by total population.
They argued that voters should be equal in influence and that counting all persons diluted the influence of voters in districts with many citizens and few noncitizens. That’s when compared to other districts of the same population but containing many noncitizens and fewer voters.
Congressional districts have been required to be roughly similar in population ever since the Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds v. Sims (1964), known as the “one person, one vote” rule.
So, in Evenwel v. Abbott, 2016, the court was asked if counting citizens and noncitizens met the test of “one person, one vote.”
Unanimously, they said yes it did.
However, the court didn’t say if that was the only way. It just said counting everyone met the test.
What was the rationale?
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, speaking for the unanimous court, wrote, “As the Framers of the Constitution and the 14th Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible or registered to vote. Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates — children, their parents, even their grandparents, for example, have a stake in a strong public-education system — and in receiving constituent services, such as help navigating public-benefits bureaucracies.”
Fast forward to 2019.
The Trump administration wanted to ask all 2020 census respondents if they are a citizen of the United States. Critics felt the question would stoke fear among unauthorized immigrants, scaring off millions of mostly Latino residents from being counted.
The administration said the information was needed to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. Unsaid was the fear that results could be used in a future effort to count only citizens for apportionment purposes and shift the balance of power to more rural and Republican states.
The Supreme Court decided that, while constitutional, the justification for the question was insincere, and the administration finally relented on asking the question.
But it’s not over.
Still open is the possibility that other methods could be used, such as counting only citizens.
Does it matter? Professor Ladewig also ran numbers based on the 2017 estimated census data and projected that three states would lose representatives: California, four; Texas, two; and Florida, one.
He also projected that seven states would gain one seat each.
That included West Virginia.
Therefore, who is counted matters to us. Not only in how many representatives we have, but also in the amount of federal funds coming here.
Stay tuned. It will be tested again.