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How does one determine who gets "fired" after a mass exodus or catastrophic event that leads to the departure or death of a sizeable portion of people in states that have several representatives?

For example, let's assume a meteor hits New York City, devastating New York State's 4th to 15th district.

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    Political rant is against the "be nice" guidelines. We could have locked the question up instead, instead, we depoliticized it as best we could and answered it. – Trish Dec 21 '20 at 22:05
  • Essentially, when redistricting occurs, they redraw the boundaries, and an incumbent or two or three get forced into the same district as some other, and only one can win the primary/general election there. There's no rule like "delete the first district" or anything like that. And in terms of EC votes, the legislature just selects one less elector (or two, or three) than before. – Lieutenant Zipp Dec 22 '20 at 15:23
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Nothing will happen. Wait for the 2030 census and January 3rd 2033.

Representatives are only recalculated after each census. The last census and recalculation was 2020. So no ordinary recalculation will happen till 2030. It's unclear if there could be an extra census, which then might lead to redistricting - the only rules (in the constitution) I can find are, that a census has to happen every 10 years. Current laws are, that it happens every 10 years.

It's up to politics to introduce laws to allow an extra census, but to make it that obvious that it is needed, there needs to be an exodus/death toll of the scale of the black death in Europe (one in 4 dies/moves) or a total depopulation of an area like New York City. Which has 8 million inhabitants, something like 10 districts, and is growing.

Back in 1918 H1N1 killed between 2% and 10% of those that got it and in total about 675,000 (of 103.2 million) in the US, mainly in cities that did lag in their reaction to the fall/winter wave in 1918. As three (not fully) random examples: Philadelphia lost 16000 for something around 941 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants (the town had about 1.7 million inhabitants at the time), LA had a death toll of only 494 per 100,000, all of Nebraska lost between 2800 and 7500 people on a population of 1.3 million - for - for between 200 and 580 deaths per 100,000. Yet despite this very disparate impact it barely impacted the 1920 census.

Not even the hurricane Katrina, which pretty much wiped out New Orleans, did not result in an extra census and restructuring - so it is very unlikely to happen.

On the other hand, there is a formula for assigning representatives. We use the same setup since the 1940 census.

Legal basis?

2 USC §2b dictates each state gets at least one:

Each State shall be entitled, in the Seventy-eighth and in each Congress thereafter until the taking effect of a reapportionment under a subsequent statute or section 2a of this title, to the number of Representatives shown in the statement transmitted to the Congress on January 8, 1941, based upon the method known as the method of equal proportions, no State to receive less than one Member.

2 USC §2c dictates how many representative districts exist and how many representatives it will have:

In each State entitled in the Ninety-first Congress [1969] or in any subsequent Congress thereafter to more than one Representative under an apportionment made pursuant to the provisions of section 2a(a) of this title, there shall be established by law a number of districts equal to the number of Representatives to which such State is so entitled, and Representatives shall be elected only from districts so established, no district to elect more than one Representative (except that a State which is entitled to more than one Representative and which has in all previous elections elected its Representatives at Large may elect its Representatives at Large to the Ninety-first Congress).

The Redistricting is State-Law - and there are roughly 5 types how it's done.

So, one representative per district. One district per representative. District borders are to be redrawn based on the decennial census as demanded in Art. 1 §2 - where it is called Enumeration:

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 Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; [provisional numbers]

When will redistricting take effect?

Redistricting lags one term behind, and it will not fire or remove a representative from office, whose district is scheduled to vanish - or elect new people. That's because redistricting on the state level can only happen after the reapportionment of the seats has been handed out by the clerk of the House of representatives. Reapportionment has a deadline of 25th January the year after the census. That's after the house term starts. Since at that moment the districts are still in existence, the term of the current holder first needs to run out before the new districts take effect. So the district ceases to exist the same day they leave office on January 3rd.

A good example would be New York:

The 45th district was redistricted from the 43rd District and elected first for in 1944, and was redistricted back into the 43rd District after the 1950 census. It was last voted for in 1950, well before the results of the census were handed out and redistricting happened. So the district ceased to be the same day Daniel A. Reed left the office on January 3rd of 1953.

The 28th Congressional District was established in 1823 and eliminated on January 3rd 2013 as a result of the 2010 census. The last election for its seat was - obviously - in 2010.

As a result, any changes to the district map stemming from the 2020 census will take effect only on January 3rd 2023, and a massive depopulation showing in the 2030 census will have an effect only in the elections for the house that begins its term on January 3rd 2033.

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  • For a current-events example, California has been projected to lose one or two Congressional seats after the current census numbers are crunched: ocregister.com/2020/07/08/… Redistricting will determine the outlines of the new districts, potentially pitting two incumbents against each other for the same new seat. – jeffronicus Dec 21 '20 at 17:14
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    @jeffronicus but not retroactively. The results of the Redistricting will take effect on January 3rd 2023. – Trish Dec 21 '20 at 17:36
  • @phoog I can only find that it needs to be made at last every 10, but I see no minimum time between census. But yes, it might be rather impossible. Adressed. – Trish Dec 21 '20 at 19:09
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    @Trish the constitution could be read as specifying ten years as the maximum time between censuses, but the statutory provisions are quite clear that it is to be done every ten years and not more frequently. The statute could be changed, though this would no doubt lead to the supreme court being forced to rule on the interpretation of the constitution. Also the 1918 flu presumably reduced the population relatively evenly across the country, so it wouldn't be expected to have a big effect on apportionment. – phoog Dec 21 '20 at 19:20
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    @phoog gave you death tolls for all of Nebraska (200-580/100k), LA (500/100k), and Philadelphia (941/100k!) - that's not "equal impact" - Nebraska's low population density had the same effect as rigorous mask laws in LA. about 12000 of the Philadelphia deaths can be attributed to the mentioned parade. – Trish Dec 22 '20 at 0:27
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We have a recent real-life example of this sort of scenario. Hurricane Katrina caused massive depopulation of Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District. At the time, this district was mostly the City of New Orleans, as well as a small portion of Jefferson Parish. (The City of New Orleans is a consolidated city-parish, and so is referred to as Orleans Parish in some contexts.)

Orleans and Jefferson Parishes lost approximately 300,000 people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which was a substantial fraction of the population of the LA-2 district. (My estimate from available data is that it was somewhere between 30–45% of the population.) Despite this, the LA-2 district continued to exist in the same form until Congressional redistricting took place, as scheduled, after the 2010 census. At that time, Louisiana lost one seat and the district boundaries were substantially redrawn. The Representative for LA-2, William J. Jefferson, was not "fired" before this redistricting due to the depopulation of his district (though perhaps he should have been, for other reasons.)

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    For those of us who don't know how populous Louisiana is, in 2000, the combined population of those parishes was roughly 940,000 making a 300,000 exodus roughly 1/3 of the population. – Azor Ahai -him- Dec 21 '20 at 17:08
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    @AzorAhai-him-: It was probably a greater fraction than that, since LA-2 only included a small portion of Jefferson Parish (by area). Another way of looking at it would be that Louisiana had 7 Congressional districts in 2005 and a total population of roughly 4.58 million. If those 7 districts were all equal in population, then LA-2 would have had about 650,000 people before Katrina, for a 45% decrease in population. – Michael Seifert Dec 21 '20 at 17:56
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    I suppose I underspecified, I meant of the listed parishes. Didn't have the time to guesstimate what portion of LA-2 it was at the time, but I had no idea if NO was a half million-person metropolitan area or two million,e tc. – Azor Ahai -him- Dec 21 '20 at 18:04
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How does one determine who gets "fired"?

By holding an election. Redistricting always affects the next congress, not the current one, and the entire house of representatives is up for reelection every two years. After a reduction in representation, at least two incumbents will be in the same district. If they both seek to be reelected, they will face each other in the primary (if they belong to the same party) or the general election (if they belong to different parties).

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    The answer is only missing: when happens the redistricting? – Trish Dec 21 '20 at 19:31
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    ...or in a top-two primary state like California, it's quite possible that they'll face each other in the primary and in the general. – Geoffrey Brent Dec 21 '20 at 23:49
  • As stated at this House of Representatives web page a representative only has to live in the state being represented, not in the district being represented. But as a practical matter, it could be difficult to persuade voters to vote for someone outside their district. – Gerard Ashton Dec 22 '20 at 0:50
  • @Trish the question doesn't ask about the timing. – phoog Dec 22 '20 at 5:40

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