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If Minnesota keeps its eight seats in Congress, it can credit state demographer Tom Gillaspy for sweating the details.

Reapportionment: Counting coup for Minnesota?

Minnesota state demographer Tom Gillaspy

Minnesota state demographer Tom Gillaspy

If Minnesota keeps its eight seats in Congress, it can credit state demographer Tom Gillaspy for sweating the details

If Minnesota retains all of its eight congressional seats in the reapportionment that follows the 2010 U.S. Census, Minnesotans may well want to pat themselves on the back for their civic-minded ways. After all, the local citizenry tied their neighbors in Wisconsin in a category critical to achieving a complete population count: the nation’s highest rate of compliance – 78 percent – in the return of census forms.

But Minnesotans also may want to tip their hat to State Demographer Tom Gillaspy and his three colleagues at the Minnesota State Demographic Center, who have long aggressively, and successfully, pursued strategies to maximize the state’s final enumeration.

In a PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis of the 2000 Census, for instance, Minnesota was found to have the lowest undercount in the nation, missing 0.28 percent of its population, or about 13,000 individuals. The second-place finisher that year was Missouri (at 0.45 percent, or about 25,000 people).

Interestingly, Minnesota and Missouri are now locked in a competition to minimize their undercounts in the 2010 census, with the loser expected to be stripped of a congressional seat in 2012. The Census Bureau is set to release the final population numbers on December 31.

“It’s pretty much of a dead heat,” said Gillaspy. “My personal opinion – and that plus four dollars will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks – I think we’re over the line. I think we’ll keep our eight seats. We’ve done everything we can. We’ve turned over every stone that we can turn. And we’ve had great response.”

A difference of a few hundred individuals could tip the balance in the Minnesota-Missouri apportionment contest, Gillaspy explained. “So many things can affect the outcome. It can come down to, ‘Did you get all the nursing homes? Did you miss a college dorm?'” said Gillaspy.

Some of Gillaspy’s efforts to achieve a full count have put Minnesota in the spotlight.

Last winter, he spearheaded the push to ensure that snowbirds wintering in Arizona and other warm weather states identify themselves as residents of Minnesota. Traveling volunteers distributed fliers alerting out-of-state retirees about the significance of filing as Minnesotans.

“Frankly, not everyone was happy about it,” said Gillaspy, in reference to officials from other states who would have preferred the snowbirds included in their own counts. “That’s their problem. I work for Minnesota.”

Minnesota has also quietly taken advantage of programs sponsored, and largely paid for, by the U.S. Census Bureau to boost its numbers.

Unlike Missouri, for instance, Minnesota participated on a statewide basis in a program called LUCA, or Local Update of Census Addresses, which began three years ago and is designed to streamline census operations.  Citing a lack of resources, former Missouri Governor Matt Blunt delegated that work to local government officials.

Gillaspy is confident that Minnesota will also be benefit from the state’s participation in the Census Bureau’s Count Review Program. That program provides states with a final chance to scrutinize the bureau’s lists of both conventional housing units and so-called “group quarters,” places such as nursing homes, military bases, prisons, and dormitories.

Undercounts are common in group quarters, so a thorough review could prove especially critical. Gillaspy said he learned a valuable lesson in the 2000 census, when some college dormitories in Minnesota were not enumerated until June, when most of the students were absent.

Until the Census Bureau releases its final numbers, Gillaspy said he cannot quantify the state’s gains from Count Review. “I can say, and we do know, that there were things found and information provided,” he said. “It was not massive, but there will be some improvement in the final count because of this.”

Ed Byerly, who manages the Count Review Program for the Census Bureau, said 32 states participated in the conventional housing unit portion of Count Review, while 43 participated in the group quarters portion. Byerly said he was not permitted to say whether Missouri opted in. Missouri State Demographer Matt Hesser did not return calls seeking further information.

Why would a state not participate in Count Review?

“Basically, it’s lack of resources and tight budgets,” said Byerly. While the Census Bureau compensated the states that participated, he explained, the compensation may not have covered all costs or the time state employees spent away from their regular day jobs.

That could prove a penny-wise/pound-foolish decision. After all, not only do census figures determine congressional apportionment, they play a major role in how federal dollars are distributed. According to a fact sheet from Missouri demographer Hesser, it is estimated that each individual missed leads to a loss of $1,000 in annual federal aid.

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