Minnesota just barely held on to its eight congressional seats on Monday as the U.S. Census Bureau announced new population totals for the country.
Minnesota grew by slightly under 400,000 people in the last decade, the Census Bureau reported, reaching a total population of 5,709,752 people by April 2020. But with other states especially in the South and West growing faster, Minnesota had been widely expected to lose a congressional seat.
The state held on by the narrowest of margins, Census Acting Director Ron Jarmin said during an online presentation. If the state of New York had counted just 89 more people in the census, he said, it would have vaulted over Minnesota to get the 435th of 435 House seats allotted.
Minnesota also had the highest census self-response rate in the country, at 75%. Experts said that could be a factor in why Minnesota was able to hold on to its eight seats.
"We really had a huge group of people with an interest in making sure we got this right, and that effort paid off, especially given the very small margin that we are seeing," said Susan Brower, the state demographer. She praised what she called a broad coalition of government and private interests who joined together to promote census participation.
"There's a really jubilant feeling among the census stakeholders today," Brower said.
Retaining eight seats means Minnesota won't lose clout in Congress or in the Electoral College. And while the upcoming process of redrawing Minnesota's eight districts and 201 legislative seats is still certain to be fraught, having to consolidate eight congressional districts into seven would likely have meant a messy political fight with high potential to pit allies against one another.
"You'll be able to hear the collective sighs of relief from the eight members of Congress across the state," said Gregg Peppin, a Republican strategist with experience in redistricting.
With a politically divided state Legislature, and the state's congressional delegation split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, Peppin said the current members of Congress have much less to worry about now. "If I'm an incumbent, I'm thinking the Legislature is going to probably do a 'least changes' plan," he said.
Minnesota has been on the edge of losing one of its seats in the U.S. House for decades. The last time it happened was after the 1960 population count, when the state went from nine seats to eight.
Given the close call, and questions about the thoroughness of the census count amid the coronavirus pandemic, experts said it's possible New York could sue in an effort to claw back the congressional seat it narrowly lost.
"The questions around accuracy are still there, even though we kept the seat," Brower said. "We still have questions about how completely the Census Bureau was able to count everyone under such unusual circumstances."
Still, Rep. Betty McCollum, a St. Paul Democrat and the senior member of Minnesota's delegation, said in a statement that the news "is a tribute to everyone who worked so hard to get a complete, comprehensive count of Minnesota's population."
"The nonprofits, businesses, local government leaders, and citizen activists who promoted the Census deserve credit for this win," McCollum said.
Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican from Duluth who represents the Eighth District, said, "I'm thrilled Minnesota will be keeping the Great Eighth for the next decade."
The final census numbers were supposed to be released by the end of December, but the data were delayed after the 2020 census count was plagued with budget constraints, technical difficulties and logistical struggles amid the pandemic.
A decade ago, Minnesota came within about 15,000 people of losing its eighth seat. Initial estimates released last December suggested the state would fall some 25,000 people short of keeping the eighth seat, which left most of the state's political class all but certain it would happen.
As of the 2020 elections, Democrats and Republicans evenly divide the state's eight-member House delegation. Democrats hold the seats that cover Minneapolis, St. Paul and a number of their respective inner-ring suburbs, and two suburban-to-exurban districts in the south and west Twin Cities.
Republicans hold three much geographically larger districts that combined cover most of greater Minnesota, and a Fourth District that combines parts of the north metro and the St. Cloud area.
The Minnesota Legislature is tasked with redrawing the political boundaries for seats in Congress and the statehouse, but disagreements and divided government have kicked that process to the courts for decades. A group of citizens has already filed a lawsuit asking for the courts to take over the redistricting process.
This fall the Census Bureau will release block-level population data that will be the basis for that process to begin. With Minnesota's Legislature divided between a Republican Senate and Democratic House, a court-drawn map again seems likely.
Staff writer Hunter Woodall contributed to this report.