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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Electoral picture emerges

by John Brummett | April 28, 2021 at 3:13 a.m.

New Census data was unveiled Monday showing that Americans are concentrating themselves in fewer states.

That will be good for the undemocratic effect of the Electoral College, which buffers abandoned and sparsely populated areas.

And it will be good for Republicans, who can't seem to win the presidency straight-up in the popular vote, having done so only once since 1988.

Republicans need to keep getting inordinately large shares of electoral votes from stagnant environs where few people live but which get two U.S. senators and thus more bang for their presidential votes than states where high concentrations of people live.

Electors, you understand, are based on a state's number of House members and senators--and senators are equal in tiny states and behemoth states.

Consider that Wyoming has a population of 578,759. Greater Little Rock has that many people, if you bring in Saline and Faulkner counties. For that Wyoming gets three electors--two for its equal share of senators and one for the only congressional seat it gets.

Consider that Washington, D.C., has 692,683 people--about 114,000 more than Wyoming. For that, Washington, D.C., gets zero senators and zero voting members of Congress--because D.C. is denied statehood by Republicans who don't want the district to get the role in determining U.S. Senate control that Wyoming gets, because Wyoming is Republican and D.C. is Democratic.

The inimitable sourpuss, our U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, says D.C. is just a city, lacking enough territory to be considered a state. He values expanses of land over people. Or at least the people in D.C. He seems to like the ones in Wyoming.

In that regard, for the record: Wyoming is 84 percent white. Those people get representation as well as inordinate power in presidential elections. Washington, D.C., is about 50 percent Black. Those people get no congressional representation.

I'm told that sometimes Black people don't think they're treated fairly in America.

Back to the new census data, which is but preliminary, sufficient to assign numbers of congressional districts to states but not detailed enough for state legislators to yet draw those districts: Seven states lost a congressional seat. They were California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia. The gainers were Texas with two seats and Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Montana and Oregon.

Circumstantial evidence suggests the exodus of people from the losing seven to the gaining six is more Democratic than Republican. The two biggest state electoral flips in the recent presidential election--Arizona and Georgia--reflected Democratic or swing-vote migration to the metropolitan suburbs of Phoenix and Atlanta. The same dynamic around Houston, Dallas and San Antonio was making Texas more competitive.

Trends indicate Texas will become Democratic before too very long. But it will take time to change the state legislature, and, anyway, congressional districts only get redrawn decennially.

The people moving to Texas to make it more Democratic will add a disproportionately low number of presidential electors compared to the added electoral punch left with Republicans staying home in the population-losing Midwestern swing states from which many of the new Texans likely will have fled--Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois.

Finally, there is this long-term dynamic: The Census Bureau projects that, by 2040, 49.5 of Americans will concentrate residence in eight states--California, Texas, Florida, New York, North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Three of those are blue states already and the others are swing. So, the ever-increasing concentration of the national population in them will lift those states' representation in the U.S. House, but have a lesser impact on the Electoral College. The concentrations won't necessarily change overall state leanings, and the small outflowing states will still get the two-senator bonus for the folks still hanging around in them behind the curve.

The solution is not to change the U.S. Senate. It's all right by me if the place stays a little rarefied and if a senator from tiny West Virginia like Joe Manchin can fashion an uncommon influence.

But as Americans pile themselves up in fewer states, we need simply to use the nationwide popular vote to elect our president.

More imminent and likely than that pipe dream will be the interesting Texas legislative work to redraw congressional districts to add these two new ones based on the new numbers.

The gains are in the booming major metropolitan areas, which are Democratic, but the legislature is Republican and has a gerrymandering history.

Alas, seldom is any of this pretty.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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