Last week’s release of state population counts from the 2020 census delivered the expected news: West Virginia will lose one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2022 election, Ohio will lose one and Kentucky will remain the same.
The House has 435 seats. Each state gets at least one seat, so that leaves 385 to be divided among the states based on population. A state can increase in population and still lose a seat if its growth rate lags behind other states.
Digging deeper, there are other things to take from the release of the numbers.
Seven states will lose one seat in the House in next year’s election. Six of those states are among the top 10 in population, and all have more than 10 million residents. West Virginia is the only small state to lose a seat.
If you look at a map showing which states will lose seats, there is California on the West Coast and then a large, almost contiguous mass in the Northeast and Midwest: New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and then jumping over to Illinois.
West Virginia is one of seven states to have two seats. Of those seven, it is the second most populous, behind Idaho with 1,841,377. Next behind West Virginia on that list is Hawaii with 1,460,137. West Virginia and Idaho are closer to the smallest three-seat state — Nebraska, at 1,963,333 — than they are to Hawaii.
While West Virginia lost 64,770 residents, Texas gained more than 3.9 million. Texas’ population growth alone was more than twice West Virginia’s total population. While West Virginia was losing one seat, Texas gained two.
According to the Census Bureau, each member of the House beginning with the 2022 election will represent an average of 761,169 people. Delaware will have the largest district size (990,837), and Montana will have the smallest (542,704). West Virginia will be on the high end at 897,523 residents per representative. Ohio and Kentucky will be closer to the national average at 787,257 and 751,557, respectively.
There was a gap of 94,570 people between the largest one-seat state and the smallest two-seat state. The gap between two and three was a bit larger, at 121,956, and larger still between three and four — 820,645.
In 1900, West Virginia had five seats in the House. It picked up a seat in 1910, giving it six seats. That stayed constant for 50 years until the state lost a seat in 1960. It lost another following the 1970 census, another in 1990 and now another in 2020.
If West Virginia wanted to reclaim its share of seats from those eras — and the clout that comes with them — it would need a huge population increase. In the 2020 apportionment, the smallest three-seat state had 1.96 million residents. The smallest four-seat state had 2.94 million. The smallest five-seat state had 3.6 million, and the smallest six-seat state had 4.2 million.
There could be a challenge in court or elsewhere to the Census Bureau’s count or its apportionment data. New York lost one seat, but if the bureau had found 89 more residents there, New York would not have lost a seat and Minnesota might have lost one instead. Ohio also was close to retaining a seat. West Virginia wasn’t.