Minnesota narrowly avoided losing one of its eight seats in Congress even though its population growth didn't keep up with that of some other states, according to figures released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Minnesota's growth rate of 7.4% was slightly better than the nationwide rate of 7.1%, helping the state keep all eight of the U.S. House seats that it has had since the 1960s.
Minnesota may have been aided by a stronger-than-usual response to the Census Bureau's survey. Three-fourths of Minnesota residents voluntarily responded during the initial phase of the census — top among states and well ahead of the national average of a two-thirds response rate.
"We're good, civic-minded people who like to respond to questionnaires, like from the census," said Peter Wattson, a former state government attorney and redistricting expert who has preemptively sued the state over its congressional and state legislative districts
Census Bureau staff said Minnesota received the last congressional seat allotted, just edging out New York. Minnesota also received the last House seat in 2010, in that case just edging out North Carolina.
The announcement came as a relief to Minnesota Democratic and Republican leaders.
"Today's news is a testament to the people of Minnesota's incredible commitment to civic engagement and democracy," state Democratic Party Chairman Ken Martin said in a statement. "As the state with both the highest census response rate in the nation at 75.1% and the highest voter turnout in the nation, Minnesotans should be proud of these results. We stepped up, fought hard, and retained a seat in Congress that most observers thought we would lose. I am thrilled that Minnesotans will retain their clout in Congress and say in the Electoral College."
GOP state Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan noted that Minnesota Republicans have flipped three congressional seats in the past two election cycles. She didn't mention that Democrats flipped two.
"No matter what the new districts look like, we are optimistic about our possibilities to flip even more seats in 2022," Carnahan said.
It will be up to the governor and Legislature, the only one in the country where power is divided between Democrats and Republicans, to decide how to redraw voting districts based on more detailed census data that is expected to be released in late summer. In the likely case that they can't agree, the task will fall to the courts.
The census figures also could have a financial impact for Minnesota. Though federal aid is not linked directly to the number of U.S. House seats, Census Bureau data play a role in determining how to allot hundreds of billions of dollars annually through Medicaid, food stamps and about 130 other federal programs. States that have grown faster than Minnesota could benefit with more money.
The new census figures show only the state's total population, not the breakdown for cities and counties. But population estimates based on other sources indicate that Minnesota's urban areas — particularly around the Twin Cities, north to St. Cloud — have grown faster than its rural areas, said Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower.
The population has remained relatively flat in northeast Minnesota's Eighth Congressional District, she said, meaning it will have to grow geographically or be merged with parts of neighboring districts when voting maps are redrawn.
Anticipating that the Democratic-led House, Republican-led Senate and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz won't be able to agree on new districts by the state constitutional deadline of Feb. 15, Wattson is asking the Supreme Court chief justice to appoint a special redistricting panel that can complete the task.
Courts have stepped into Minnesota's map-drawing every decade since the 1980s for congressional districts and the 1970s for state legislative districts.
Minnesota's U.S. House seats peaked at 10 following the 1910 and 1920 censuses before falling to nine after the 1930 census and eight after then 1960 census. The state also narrowly avoided losing a seat after the 2010 census.
During the past decade, Minnesota's overall population growth actually has been pretty strong compared to some Midwestern states, Brower said.
But "it's not anywhere near the growth that you see in some of those Southwestern states or some of those Southern states like Texas or Florida," she said. "We're really competing against those states that are enormous and have been growing fast for a very long time."