SALEM — As the nation heads into the 2020 census, Oregon appears more likely than ever to gain a sixth congressional seat, according to new population estimates.
The Census Bureau estimates released Monday show that Oregon’s population growth — while slowing in the past year — remains strong enough to put the state in line for another seat.
“I think you’re probably looking good” to gain an additional seat, said Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services of Virginia. His firm uses several different models to project how congressional seats may be apportioned, and he said all of them show a sixth seat for Oregon.
However, he and other forecasters caution that some uncertainties remain. There’s been controversy over whether some immigrant communities will be hesitant to participate in the 2020 census given the Trump administration’s moves to crack down on illegal immigration. And a major natural disaster or big economic shock could also have a sudden impact on the state’s population. Brace said California is on the verge of losing a congressional seat for the first time in that state’s history, particularly if there’s an undercount among immigrants there.
The new estimates show Oregon grew by 0.9% between July 1, 2018, and July 1, 2019, to a total population of 4,217,737. The state came close to gaining a sixth seat in 2010, and the state’s growth since then has been relatively strong.
Under current law, it’s the job of the Oregon Legislature and Gov. Kate Brown to redraw district lines for both Congress and for legislative seats. However, the Oregon League of Women Voters and several other groups want to put an initiative on the ballot next year that would turn the job over to an independent commission.
Four of Oregon’s five congressional seats are now held by Democrats. Both major political parties have been looking at how they could draw the lines of a new district to maximize their chances of winning an additional seat.