A 2020 Census undercount may have cost Florida an extra seat in Congress

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A 2020 Census undercount may have cost Florida an extra seat in Congress
RICHARD B. LEVINE TNS

The 2020 Census miscounted the residents of Florida, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released Thursday, possibly costing the state government aid and an extra seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Census’ Post-Enumeration Survey, which measures the accuracy of the census, found that the agency undercounted six states, including Florida, and overcounted eight others. The report concluded that Florida’s population was undercounted by 3.48%.

That miscalculation could have kept Florida — one of the fastest-growing states in the country — from receiving a second additional seat in Congress, as many demographics experts predicted would happen prior to the census’ conclusion.

After each census, states are awarded seats in the House of Representatives based off population, a process called reapportionment. In April 2021, when the Census released its apportionment results, Florida received one additional seat in Congress, bringing its total to 28. Census officials said that Florida fell just short of having the population growth necessary to be awarded the additional district.

READ MORE: Florida gains one U.S. House seat after 2020 Census results are released

Following the census, Florida’s congressional districts now represent, on average, just shy of 770,000 people. At -3.48%, the undercount in a state estimated to have a population of 21 million adds up to more than 700,000 people.

An additional seat in Congress would have also given Florida one more vote in the Electoral College during presidential election years. Florida now has 30 Electoral College votes, a number calculated by adding Florida’s 28 congressional districts with its two U.S. Senate seats.

The census’ population figures also factor into the allocation of federal aid, one of the reasons officials often strongly encourage residents to participate in the survey every 10 years. Florida led a campaign to promote the 2020 Census, though Gov. Ron DeSantis received some criticism from people who thought he moved too late.

The miscounts

The Post-Enumeration Study, or PES, which the Census Bureau conducted by independently surveying a sample of the population and estimating the proportion of people and housing units potentially missed or counted erroneously, is intended to analyze the accuracy of the census.

“The release of these PES estimates assists us in understanding how well we did this decade, state by state, in our efforts to count everyone living in the United States,” Census Bureau Director Robert L. Santos said in a news release.

The other undercounted states were Arkansas (-5.04%), Illinois (-1.97%), Mississippi (-4.11%), Tennessee (-4.78%) and Texas (-1.92%). The overcounted ones were Delaware (+5.45%), Hawaii (+6.79%), Massachusetts (+2.24%), Minnesota (+3.84%), New York (+3.44%), Ohio (+1.49%), Rhode Island (+5.05%) and Utah (+2.59%).

Previously released PES results for the nation showed no significant net coverage error for the total population, although undercounts and overcounts by race, Hispanic origin, age, sex and home ownership varied, according to the Census Bureau.

Why were states miscounted?

The Census Bureau found that there were no statistically significant miscounts in 2010. But the 2020 Census was conducted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which hampered efforts to hire workers to go door to door to get census responses.

It also occurred after President Donald Trump’s administration ended the 2020 national head count early and unsuccessfully attempted to exclude immigrants living in the country without permission from being counted.

While the PES can estimate undercounts and overcounts in the census, its data can’t answer why a particular state may have experienced one, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Though the PES estimated that no states had significant miscounts in the 2010 Census, after the 2000 Census, the PES estimated 22 states and Washington, D.C., had significant miscounts.

The Census Bureau said it has improved its methods to estimate these errors — which may partially explain the difference between the PES results of 2010 and the ones of 2020.

“These improvements were designed to reduce the bias of the state coverage estimates and more accurately measure the sampling error of the estimates,” the agency said.

What will happen next?

During a press briefing Wednesday, bureau officials emphasized that the PES estimates will not change each state’s share of representation in the House or the Electoral College, NPR reported.

According to the Census Bureau, the PES state and national level estimates “indicate that the 2020 Census data are fit for use in apportionment (and) redistricting.”

But the agency said it will use the PES results to prepare for the 2030 Census — a process that is already underway.

“These results give us valuable insight as we plan operations and allocate resources for the 2030 Census,” Santos said.

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