Washington — Five states — New York, California, Texas, Arizona and Florida — are perilously close to losing out on congressional seats because of lackluster participation in the U.S. census.
The five were average or below average in mailing back 10-question census forms when compared with other states, trailing by as many as 5 percentage points, according to the final census mail-in tally.
Responses from these states also raise a red flag because of their higher shares of residents who are Latinos.
Census Bureau officials have said one of their main concerns is whether tensions over immigration will discourage Latinos, and particularly illegal immigrants, from participating in the government count. That issue returned to the forefront after Arizona passed a tough immigration enforcement bill.
Latino residents represent a predominant share of the population growth in New York, California, Texas, Arizona and Florida, making up more than 50 percent of total growth since 2000. As a result, those states could face big losses if there isn’t full cooperation when the Census Bureau on Saturday begins knocking on the doors of those who did not respond by mail.
Of the five states, the biggest potential losers are California and New York, which could have a net loss of one and two House seats, respectively. Texas may end up gaining just three House seats instead of four.
Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said he was concerned about some skittish Latinos who may refuse to answer their doors, particularly given Arizona’s new immigration law.
“I’m incredibly disappointed with the Obama administration in their efforts to promote the census,” Vargas said, citing the government’s failure to halt immigration raids during the count as it did in 2000. “It may have the impact of shooting people in the foot if Arizona ends up losing out on a House seat.”
States such as Minnesota and Oregon are next in line to pick up seats. Minnesota had the nation’s second-highest mail response at 80 percent, trailing only Wisconsin with 81 percent — a clear boost in its effort to avert the loss of a seat, even after Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., made clear her view that the 10-question census was an invasion of privacy.
North Carolina, which snatched a seat from Utah in 2000 when overseas missionaries were excluded from the count, also remains in play to gain a seat.
“It would be a bit ironic if Minnesota ends up a winner,” said Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services, a Virginia-based firm that crunches political numbers. “With the immigration concern, that’s going to have an impact. Both New York and California are in the position of losing seats, but they haven’t done as much as they could in spending to improve on outreach.”