Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Census 2010 - Republicans a Permanent Minority

While potential Republican candidates jockey for media exposure and position themselves for the 2012 election cycle, the real battle for the future of the Republican Party is being waged without them. That battle isn’t in Iowa or New Hampshire. And it’s not in the studios of cable news networks. The battle for the future of the Republican Party is taking shape in the Department of Commerce and in the halls of Congress. No, the battle is not over the Stimulus Bill or the Bailout Bill. The real battle is over the Federal Census.

By the terms of our Constitution, seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned among the states based on the Federal Census. Districts for those House seats are periodically redrawn by state legislatures using Census data to ensure equal representation. All of that will be determined in the second half of the Obama Administration's current term using 2010 Census data. But more is at stake than mere House seats.

Over the past thirty years, political strategists have become adept at using election law to position their candidates in an advantageous posture. One of their favorite techniques for presidential campaigns involves the timing of state party primaries. Candidates with real political muscle can get primary dates moved to their advantage. Bill Clinton did it in 1992. Hillary tried it. Others have as well. To adjust those election dates, the candidate’s party must have control of the given state’s legislature. The coming reapportionment and redistricting will help make that possible. But I think a more critical strategy may be in play.

The Supreme Court has ruled that only a nose-count method will pass Constitutional review for the Federal Census. Statistical modeling is not allowed for counts used to apportion House seats. But the Census Bureau still uses statistical modeling to check the accuracy of their nose count. Accuracy of that count is determined by comparing the modeling results to the actual count to check for an under-count or over-count. Based on that information, the Census Bureau can send Census Takers back to re-canvass areas thought to have produced an erroneous nose-count. I say all of that to suggest there’s room for error. The counting method isn’t air tight. It has slack.

In the slack between total accuracy and approximation, the Party in power has the latitude to adjust not only district lines but perhaps even the ability to adjust the apportionment numbers for House seats. It all depends on the manner in which the counting is done.

Counting that produces an undercount in rural Republican states, for instance, in Louisiana, Alabama or Mississippi – or in New York and Ohio where the Democrat margin is not in jeopardy – might actually produce an over-count in other states. Say, for instance, North Carolina, Florida, or Nevada. Redistricting for those new seats might mean that districts could be realigned to give the Democrats a majority of all the districts in each of those states.

Those three states – North Carolina, Florida, and Nevada – voted Republican in 2004 but switched to Democrat in 2008. By reapportioning seats to those states and realigning districts there, the Democrats could solidify their hold on those states. So much so that they would remain in Democrat hands for the foreseeable future, not only for district elections but for national elections as well.

That kind of power shift could put the Republican Party in the minority, permanently.

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