Shrinking RI on track to lose a congressional seat after 2020

Rhode Island is going to need a pretty sizable reversal in its ongoing population decline if the state wants to avoid losing one of its two congressional seats following the next U.S. Census in 2020.

“For 80 years, tiny Rhode Island has stubbornly remained at two House seats and four electoral votes,” Politico’s Charlie Mahtesian wrote after new population estimates were released last week. “But it’s on a path to lose a seat and join the ranks of the states with a single at-large seat.”

Right now the states with one at-large U.S. House seat are South Dakota, North Dakota, Vermont, Alaska, Delaware, Wyoming and Montana.

Rhode Island has had at least two U.S. House seats since 1793, and from 1913 to 1933 the state briefly had three. Downsizing to an at-large seat starting in 2022 would shift the dynamic in Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, since all three members of Congress – the two U.S. senators and one House lawmaker – will represent the whole state. It could also make it even harder for Republicans to win federal office.

Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics ran the numbers under two scenarios and in both cases projected that Rhode Island wouldn’t even be a runner-up for an additional seat after 2020. Last year, Nate Silver calculated that Rhode Island had the second- and third-smallest House districts in the nation.

Another option: Rhode Island could push to expand the size of the U.S. House. More seats for everyone!

• Related: Start getting ready for a Cicilline vs. Langevin race (March 24, 2011)

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