It took years of planning and strong execution to save the state’s eighth seat in Congress.
Minnesota has successfully hung onto all eight of its congressional seats, thanks to a top-in-the-nation turnout for the most recent U.S. census, the decennial count of the nation’s population.
That it did so was no fluke, but the result of years of work, planning, preparation and then execution under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Minnesota had been in serious danger of losing a congressional seat, until a broad coalition of foundations, community groups, tribal nations, corporations and strong partnership with the state demographer’s office went to work, starting as far back as 2015.
In the end, Minnesota won out by a mere 89 people, claiming the 435th seat in Congress over New York. “If New York had counted 90 more people, that would have been it,” said Bob Tracy, formerly of the Minnesota Council on Foundations. Tracy, who helped lead that census work, told an editorial writer, “I’ve had a pretty damn big smile on my face all day.”
And while political representation is important, more than a seat was at stake. Tracy estimates that each additional Minnesotan counted represented nearly $2,000 more in federal funds per person per year tied to the census. “A lot of people didn’t fully appreciate how information from the census affected investment in their community, that it meant money for parks and schools and services,” he said.
State Demographer Susan Brower said earlier that had Minnesota lost a seat, each of the remaining seven districts would have had to grow by 102,000 people, forcing districts in Greater Minnesota to take in even more geographical territory. “Our great self-response rate gave Minnesota an edge over other states that didn’t respond so thoroughly,” she said.
States that lost representation in Congress included some far larger than Minnesota. In addition to New York, they included California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Tracy credited ground operations that relied on trusted members in historically undercounted areas, including immigrant communities, far-flung rural areas, and minority communities. “From the start we brought to the table the notion that to get the best count possible, we had to build inclusion and equity, really engaging a whole new set of partners, a whole new population of Minnesotans,” he said. “One of the first things those communities said was that they weren’t hard to count, it was just that no one let them do it the way it needed to be done.” The job was made immeasurably harder by the global pandemic and the fight by the Trump administration to institute a citizenship question, which ultimately failed.
And that network, now in place, will pay dividends far beyond the census, the political representation and even federal funds. Those collaborations were also mobilized to increase voter turnout and are being tapped to begin the work on the 2030 census.
When it comes to civic engagement, Minnesotans are accustomed to leading, as proven by top voter turnout. Now it applies to the census as well, with tangible benefits.
Well done, Minnesota.