RI will lose a US House seat to Arizona after 2020, study finds


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Arizona is set to snag one of Rhode Island’s two U.S. House seats after the 2020 Census, leaving Rhode Island with just one representative in the chamber for the first time since George Washington was president, according to an analysis of newly released population data.

Kimball Brace, the reapportionment expert who has been involved in drawing legislative and congressional districts in Rhode Island since the early 1980s, ran the numbers Wednesday after the U.S. Census Bureau announced Rhode Island had added only about 800 residents between July 2017 and July 2018.

The population figures are closely watched as a sign of what will happen when congressional maps are redrawn after the next Census. Congress has capped the number of House seats at 435 since 1929, so every 10 years the seats are reallocated among the 50 states based on their current share of the national population.

Rhode Island has had at least two U.S. House seats since 1793, and even had three seats from 1913 to 1933. But with the state’s population now largely stagnant while southern and western states grow quickly, there appears to be little chance the state can hold onto that second seat.

Massachusetts lost one of its seats after the last Census in 2010, reducing its representation in the House from 10 to nine.

In theory, the loss of a seat would force incumbent Democratic Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin to face off in a primary for the new at-large seat. However, WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming said last month he thinks it’s more likely the pair would come to an agreement on who would run.

If Rhode Island loses its second seat, it would join the group of seven small states that already have just one at-large U.S. House member, elected by the entire state electorate: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. Those states send three lawmakers to Washington: two to the U.S. Senate and one to the U.S. House.

A study in May by the Pew Research Center found Rhode Island currently has one voting member for every 529,820 residents, giving it the lowest population-to-representative ratio in the country.

Last month, a New York Times editorial suggested increasing the total number of House seats from 435 to 593. Brace ran a model to test how that work, and found Rhode Island would have two seats in a 593-member House, while Massachusetts would have 13.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Rhode Island has had at least two U.S. House seats since the Constitution was ratified; Rhode Island had only one seat at the start of Congress, but got a second one starting in 1793.

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