'Snowbirds' Crucial to Keeping Congressional Seat

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In just two years, the federal government will be conducting its decennial Census – a head count of everyone living in America. Based on the data it collects, it will assign the 435 House of Representative seats to states based on their population, working to ensure that each district has nearly the same number of people.

Minnesota demographic officials fear we could come out on the short end of the count and lose one of our eight seats for the 2022 elections.

Minnesota is growing, just not as fast as Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon, Montana, Colorado or Arizona. Each of those states is projected to pick up a seat.

Minnesota, along with seven others, is likely to lose one.

Should Minnesota lose a congressional district, we probably won’t be seeing a lot of our representative.

Currently, the 7th Congressional District stretches from the Canadian border to within one county of Iowa. It encompasses roughly the western one-third of the state. The district is distinctly rural with its largest towns Willmar, Fergus Falls, Moorhead, and Alexandria.

Democrat Collin Peterson, Detroit Lakes, has held the seat since 1991 thanks to his socially and fiscally conservative stands that fit the district and hard work for constituents throughout the district. His plane is a big help in getting around the expansive district to meet with constituents. If Peterson isn’t still the U.S. representative in 2022, whoever replaces him better have a pilot’s license as well.

The new district could form an L-shape taking in all of western and southern Minnesota, merging with what is now the 1st Congressional District. If approved, it would maintain the agricultural and small-town character of the district.

However, there is a chance the new 7th District could stretch across northern Minnesota including Duluth. That would leave west central Minnesota in a new congressional district that included the St. Cloud area and extends north of the Twin Cities to the Wisconsin border.

Minnesota isn’t giving up one of its congressional seats without an intense effort to make sure everyone is counted. That effort is going to require some cooperation from a group of state residents who recently have been migrating back to the state from warmer climates in the south. These “snowbirds” could play a critical role in deciding whether or not we lose a congressional seat.

In a story for MinnPost, Greta Kaul reported that whether or not the state loses a seat could come down to accurately counting the estimated 30,000 snowbirds come Census time.

“The deciding factor could be between 10,000 and 30,000 people, according to the most recent projections by Election Data Services, a consulting company that works on redistricting,” Kaul writes.

The problem with counting snowbirds has to do with timing. Just when the count is taking place, many of the state’s residents are in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Florida or another warmer state. The Minnesota Census enumerators will be going door-to-door in March 2020 to count residents. During the month of April, the state will follow up with people who it missed in earlier efforts.

“Census forms,” Kaul points out, “unlike other mail, aren’t forwarded to snowbirds from their Minnesota addresses.”

“It’s really going to be tricky because snowbirds will receive a form at their house in Florida, or Arizona, or California and they’ll just have to know they’re a Minnesota resident and they should be filling it out as a Minnesotan, for their usual residence,” State Demographer Susan Brower told Kaul.

In the 2010 Census, Minnesota came within 8,739 people of losing a seat. At this point, the numbers are not looking good for the state. But it is already making a significant effort to ensure that it counts people that are hard to reach or who move frequently. It is working to educate the snowbirds about the need to say they are Minnesotans no matter where they are spending their winter.

Minnesota could be helped by a Republican move that has added a question on citizenship to the Census. The question is expected to greatly increase the number of people who don’t fill out the Census questionnaire or meet with enumerators.

Those who fear deportation will “hide” from the Census takers and throw away questionnaires suspecting the information they supply will lead to their arrest. If that is the case, states like Texas, with a large immigrant population, could see its census numbers fall. Nevada and Florida could also see lower numbers.

The Brookings Institute estimates that “24.3 million people would have good reason to skip the 2020 Census if they believe their names and addresses could be shared with law enforcement.”

Another downside to the question, pushed by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is the loss of federal assistance.

“Because most of them (people who will not participate in the Census) are not concentrated in the big blue states, and most of the federal funding tied to the Census involves programs like Medicaid, Section 8 housing assistance, and support for school lunches, the new Ross-Sessions policy could cut federal funding to the 23 mainly red states with poverty rates above the national average,” Brooking reports.

As a result of the citizenship question, Minnesota might have a better chance of holding on to a seat and get a more significant share of the federal spending pie.

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