When the U.S. Census Bureau announced congressional reapportionment on Monday, there was good news and bad news for the state of New York.
The good news was that the Empire State had only lost one House seat and a corresponding Electoral College vote due to the 2020 census. This had long been expected; in fact, the question was whether it would lose one or two seats, as Election Data Services noted in December guidance on population estimates.
Having to pare down the state’s electoral map by one district — especially when Democrats control both houses of the state legislature and can redraw the map — is a much simpler task than eliminating two, particularly if Democrats want to be competitive in upstate swing districts.
The bad part wasn’t that New York lost a seat — it was how it lost the seat. Namely, by just 89 people.
Census says that if New York had had *89 more people* we wouldn't have lost another House seat (assuming no other states changed).
— Philip Bump (@pbump) April 26, 2021
It’s one of those statistical what-if anomalies. What if, for instance, the state hadn’t seen a population loss of more than 126,000 in 2019 alone, according to USA Today? For that matter, what if the state’s early mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t allowed the disease to spread so rapidly by April 1, 2020, when the census stopped counting?
So here’s a morbid thought: the Census is a count of population as of April 1, 2020.
By that date, New York had reported 447 #COVID19 deaths in the U.S.’s first big wave.
As of then, Minnesota had 17 #COVID19 deaths.
Minnesota got a congressional seat over NY by 89 people.
— David H. Montgomery (@dhmontgomery) April 26, 2021
Bad policies causing migration away from New York? Bad management of the novel coronavirus? Not according to the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, who can always be counted on for an implausibly bad take — and this one was a doozy, even by his standards.
During a news conference Tuesday, Cuomo blamed former President Donald Trump for scaring illegal immigrants away from taking the census and said the state was “looking at legal options” to keep its 27th House seat.
“Look, you had a lot going on. You had people who were nervous to come forward, right?” Cuomo said at an event in Johnson City, New York, according to a Twitter post from NPR census correspondent Hansi Lo Wang. “You have undocumented people who are nervous to come forward. I do believe the federal government had a chilling effect.
“It was down to like 89 — is the differential. Do I think it was accurate to within 89? No.
“And we’re looking at legal options, because when you’re talking about 89, that could be a minor mistake in counting, right?”
NEW: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state's "looking at legal options" the day after the Census Bureau revealed New York that could have avoided losing a congressional seat if its 2020 census numbers included 89 more people. From Cuomo's press conference in Johnson City, NY: pic.twitter.com/7vfc2AnSvA
— Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) (@hansilowang) April 27, 2021
Wrong. Cuomo’s take looks bad on its face. It’s actually worse when you take a desultory glance at the facts.
First, the implicit argument Cuomo makes is that, by trying to put a question on the census about citizenship (among other efforts to not include illegal residents in the census count), the Trump administration scared illegal immigrants away from taking the census. Never mind the question was blocked by the Supreme Court, which makes the point moot. Let’s look at the statistics in the matter, because they don’t favor Cuomo’s interpretation of what the citizenship matter did.
The states that gained seats in Monday’s census reapportionment were Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, which each gained one, and Texas, which gained two, according to the Census Bureau. The states that lost one seat each were California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The Census Bureau just released the first #2020Census results, which included the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives. Here are the results 👇 https://t.co/RHvocjkXow #Apportionment #CensusBureau pic.twitter.com/2QuyrHccDJ
— U.S. Census Bureau (@uscensusbureau) April 26, 2021
According to 2019 estimates by the Pew Research Center, California had the most illegal immigrants in the nation with 2.2 million. Next was … Texas, with 1.6 million. Florida was third with 775,000, and then we get to New York with 725,000.
But wait, this gets worse for Cuomo’s argument. In terms of illegal aliens as an estimated percentage of residents, Texas — the only state to gain more than a single seat — has the second-highest, with 5.7 percent of its population being in the country illegally, according to Pew. (Nevada is first with 7.1 percent.)
California is third with 5.6 percent. Florida was in a four-way tie for seventh with 3.8 percent (with the District of Columbia, Georgia and Massachusetts). Down in 10th was New York with 3.6 percent. In short, it’s difficult to see how any kind of “chilling effect” can be statistically demonstrated when it comes to the census counting illegal aliens.
But that’s not the point. What Cuomo wants Americans to do is think that if big bad Trump hadn’t scared illegal immigrants, New York would have come up with 89 more residents. Facts? Didn’t you hear the man? It “could be a minor mistake in counting” and he doesn’t “think it was accurate to within 89.” What more do you need, you xenophobe?
Beyond that, this isn’t the first time New York has cried that its residents were being undercounted — and it hasn’t worked before.
“New York has challenged the Census before over undercounting from the 1970s through the 2000s, and each time, the Supreme Court has rebuffed the state’s efforts,” New York Law School senior fellow Jeff Wice told Politico.
“Massachusetts and Utah have also challenged the apportionments … and they’ve also had their lawsuits rejected.”
So New York’s legal options are likely a dead end, if one is to look at the legal history of the matter. Cuomo would also have to explain why other states with more illegal immigrants managed to gain seats while the Empire State specifically suffered because of this “chilling effect.”
But this is a rallying cry that can distract from the real reason New York lost a seat: It’s a high-tax state that, like other blue states of its ilk, has seen people priced out or demurring when it comes to doing business there.
All Cuomo needed was 89 fewer people to depart out of the 126,000 the state lost last year alone. He ought to be grateful Monday only brought the loss of one seat, and by a slim margin at that. Anything else risks calling attention to Cuomo’s three terms of failed policies, not to the imagined immigration-centric perfidies of the former president.