Ohio’s slow growth rate means it will lose a Congressional seat, which local leaders and experts said could affect funding for programs at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the state’s role in presidential elections.
Ohio’s population is 11.8 million ― a 2.3% increase from the last census ― according to the 2020 Census released Monday. The slow population growth will cause the state to go from 16 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to 15. Ohio is among six states that will lose Congressional seats.
Losing a Congressional seat will further decrease Ohio’s political power in the federal government and continue a trend of dropping seats in the House, said Christopher Devine, assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton.
That matters in two ways, he said. First, it means the state has one fewer vote in the House, and Ohio will now have fewer Electoral College votes in presidential elections, Devine said.
One less Congressional seat also could impact the state’s ability to get what it needs in terms of funding priorities for Wright-Patt, the state’s largest single site employer, and various other programs, Devine said. Presidential candidates could also make Ohio less of a priority, he said.
In 2010, the state lost two seats. After redistricting, former U.S. Rep. Steve Austria’s district was split up. He had to either run against Rep. Mike Turner or move to another district. He chose not to run again.
Dave Hobson, a former longtime Republican congressman who represented the Springfield and Greene County area, said when he first got to the U.S. Congress, Ohio had 21 seats.
“When I was there, we had 21 votes, plus some ranking members. All that combined gave us a good number of sway. When Ohio spoke, people listened,” Hobson said. “Now, Ohio will have less votes to command and that will have an affect on the power of our delegation.”
In Hobson’s opinion, Ohio’s delegation should try to get more seniority to combat losing a seat. Losing a seat highlights even more the important of getting good people elected to represent the issues Ohioans care about, Hobson said.
“The less members you have, the harder it is to get heard,” Hobson said.
Ohio’s great infrastructure needs may also be harder to get funding for with fewer members in Congress, he said.
“Unfortunately we’re not growing as fast as other states,” Hobson said.
Seven seats shifted among 13 states this decade. California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia also lost a seat. Census Bureau officials Monday said New York would have kept the seat it lost if it had counted 89 more residents. Ohio was next closest to keeping its congressional seat. Census Bureau officials couldn’t say how many more residents were needed in Ohio.
Texas will gain two more seats. Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon will get one more seat.
Local government leaders say every census is important because the numbers shape how much federal money comes back to local programs and how much representation the area gets in Washington, D.C.
The 2020 Census, however, is taking on more significance for the Miami Valley, experts said. The count comes every 10 years, and this one will show how the region changed in the aftermath of the Great Recession and what happened to people displaced by the Memorial Day tornadoes.
There was a 7.4% population nationwide increase between 2010 and 2020, the second slowest in U.S. history. The south grew the fastest. The Midwest grew 3.1% this decade.
According to a study from George Washington University, each person not counted in Ohio is a loss of $1,800 per year for the state.
State population counts are used to determine how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House.
The method for dividing up the 435 congressional seats has changed repeatedly since the first census in 1790. The current formula, known as “the method of equal proportions,” has been in place for 80 years, according to the AP. Using that method, all 50 states are automatically assigned at least one seat. Numbers called multipliers are calculated and then multiplied against a state’s population. The resulting series of numbers are called “priority values,” which are then ranked. From there, the rest of the congressional seats are assigned to states based on the ranking of their state’s priority values.
The count also helps draw boundaries for Ohio General Assembly seats.
The data released Monday only covered state population totals and the number of congressional seats for each state. More detailed data about race, Hispanic origin and housing at smaller geographic levels will come out later this year.
This is the third Congressional seat that Ohio has lost since the year 2000, so lawmakers need to do an assessment to determine why people are leaving, said state Rep. Willis E. Blackshear Jr., D-Dayton.
They need to replace some of the current policies with new ones that are going to create better jobs and opportunities for people to remain in the state, he said. In addition, there should be policies that help working class residents and encourage college students to stay here once they graduate, Blackshear said.
Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said the state needs to draw the now 15 congressional districts through a fair, transparent and collaborative process.
“While we must wait for the full decennial census data to make the final maps, we must not wait to start the process,” she said. “Ohio mapmakers should begin hosting public hearings for experts and everyday Ohioans to address the new voter-approved map-making reforms passed in 2015 and 2018, as well as best practices for creating fair maps for all Ohioans.”