New Census Rule for Military Personnel Could Tip Balance of Congressional Seats

March 9, 2020 Updated: March 9, 2020
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A new decision for how temporarily deployed military personnel are counted in the 2020 U.S. Census could make a difference in how many congressional seats are allocated in states which have a larger number of active military service members.

The results of the 2020 census will determine how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding are allocated to local communities for schools, health care, and emergency services for the next 10 years and how the 435 congressional seats are divided.

The reapportionment of one of those congressional seats could be decided by fewer than a thousand people on the census. The new decision by the census bureau for enumerating military personnel could make that difference.

This shift in the census’ residency rule is intended to better reflect where deployed personnel really spend their time and reflects where funds should be allocated for infrastructure and services in those areas, like hospitals and schools, associated with that population.

In the previous decennial population count, all military members who were serving overseas were counted in the home state they listed on their official paperwork, or home of record. For the 2020 count, the Census Bureau will make a distinction between military members stationed abroad long term in countries like Japan, for example, and personnel deployed temporarily, such as a months-long assignment in Iraq.

What this translates to is that troops from military bases, like North Carolina’s military installation, will be counted in that state instead of the residence listed on their Pentagon papers.

The Census Bureau made the change in 2018 as it finalized its counting rules and after pressure from states like North Carolina that have a high number of temporarily deployed personnel.

Texas, California, and North Carolina are among the states where the change could have the largest impact because they have the largest military populations. However, there are also population shifts that may affect congressional representation.

Reapportionment expert Kimbal Brace, president of Election Data Services Inc., told The Epoch Times in an email that while it’s hard to be sure at this point, the Census Bureau’s new method may affect the final count of congressional seats.

The shifts since the last census have put several states close to the margin for gaining or losing a congressional seat, including Alabama, California, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas. Brace said the new method could be a deciding factor in how congressional seats are divided.

“I’ve been told that they think it will reduce by about 15 percent the state military overseas population numbers that are added to the residency population to create the number for apportionment,” said Brace. “That 15 percent will instead be located within the residence numbers that are counted and used for redistricting.”

At this point it’s a little hard to say who will be impacted by the change, but it’s probably a safe bet that it will affect which states are right at the margin for getting that last 435th seat.

The Census Bureau’s decision in 2000 to designate military personnel stationed abroad back to their “home of record” helped give North Carolina the 435th seat in Congress that year by 856 people.

Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr who serves as Director of Heritage’s Center for National Defense, told The Epoch Times that this new rule will likely benefit military families because the resources will be allocated in the communities where military personal spend their time.

Military personnel have a home of record, where they entered the military, but may never return there.

Spoehr used his own service record as an example to explain the new census rule: 36 years ago, he started his service in his home of record, Illinois, but never went back there. Instead, even when he was deployed in Iraq, his family lived at various military bases including in the District of Columbia.

Under previous rules, Spoehr would have been counted as overseas and listed only in the congressional reapportionment count for Illinois. In 2020, based on the revised rules, the he will be counted in Washington, for purposes of reapportionment.

Spoehr estimates that at any given time, there are between 100,000 and 130,000 service members temporarily deployed overseas.

The number of deployed personnel can vary at any given time and other factors in deployments can also change quickly, so the exact effect of this rule will be unknown until after the 2020 Census numbers are finalized.