As the data from the 2020 Census comes in, Montana’s likelihood of getting two congresscritters approaches 100%. The 1910 Census showed enough population to justify 2 representatives, and the 1990 Census dropped the state down to a single congressman. This Census brings us back to a pair – which should be interesting in terms of drawing the line making two districts. Here are the states where congressional representation changes this year:
This is the sole constitutionally mandated reason for the decennial census – article 1, section 2 specifies that “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” The three fifths rate and untaxed Indians have gone by the wayside, and the constitution uses the term “persons” and not “citizens.”
As I look at the table from Metropolitan and consider the current split in the US House of Representatives (where a five seat loss can change the balance from a democrat majority to a republican majority) a few thoughts come to mind. One less Rhode Island representative is one less democrat. One less West Virginia representative is one less republican. Most of the other states on the table are going to have people figuring out district maps that keep one party or another losing or keeping a congressional seat. Montana set up its legislative districts in a way that is tough to gerrymander – yet this time, there is an obvious simple way to tilt one of the districts.
The simplest way to get an idea as to which areas Montana’s new congressional district will represent is to look at the map of Montana’s state senate districts – each has about the same population (2010 Census) and the map gives a pretty good visualization of where the lines could be drawn. Historically, western Montana has more democrat voters than eastern Montana – so returning to an east/west split would likely guarantee a republican on the eastern side, while giving a democrat a chance in the west. On the other hand, putting senate districts 1 through 25 in one congressional district, and 26 through 50 in the other. Every District listed 20 Montana Senate Districts as “Safe” for democrats, so the trick of gerrymandering for the new seat to go democrat is to put as many of those in the new district; if you want to the new seat to go republican, split them as equally as the map allows.
My obvious pro-dem split would be numerical – the first congressional district being from senate districts 1 thru 25, the second from 26 thru 50. The first district would include 4 “safe democrat districts”, one that leans democrat, one that leans republican, one that favors republican and the remaining 18 “safe republican districts.” Using state senate districts for calculations leaves the numbers small enough to calculate readily. The second congressional district would include 16 “safe democratic districts”, one that leans republican, two that favor republicans, and 11 “safe republican districts. Of course, since I can see this after glancing at a map for five minutes, it is highly probable that there are more than a few republican legislators that see this as gerrymandering and not in their best interest.
So what I expect is the historic east-west state division. The east basically stays “safe republican” – but the challenge is to put as many “safe democrat” districts in that congressional district as possible. Following the lines on the map, the potential game changers are in Great Falls (senate districts 11 and 12) and in Bozeman (where the county is split 3D-2R). It is difficult to draw a line that would leave a non-competitive west district without some fairly obvious chicanery – but if Great Falls’ two D’s are shifted west and Gallatin County gets split and three “safe democrat districts” can be shifted into the east district while maintaining a fairly straight north-south line separating the districts. Nine “safe democratic districts” would not offset 18 other districts in the hypothetical “Eastern Montana Congressional District”, while 11 “safe democratic districts” would join 14 reddish districts to make a pink or purple “Western Montana Congressional District.”
This is, of course, hypothetical. Some district boundaries probably will change. I’m using partisan data, and assuming that population growth won’t slip a new Senate district into Gallatin or Missoula county. I could use representative districts to gain a little precision. But I’ll bet a six-pack that we wind up with west and east congressional districts, and I’ll bet another six-pack that we see bunches of out-of-state money buying ads for that first western Montana congressional race in 30 years.