Population shifts could reapportion Carolinas' congressional districts

WASHINGTON — North Carolina once again appears on the bubble of getting an extra seat in Congress as the next Census approaches, and the outcome is likely to depend on whether growth continues to slow and how many deployed troops called the state home.

South Carolina continues to be on track to get an additional member of Congress to add to its six, while North Carolina's chance of adding to its 13 seat allotment is less certain, experts say.

The importance of the Census count has been highlighted this year because some formulas for distributing government dollars are population-driven. The government's attempt to count every person who resides in the country is conducted every 10 years, and the shifts in where people live are used to redistribute the 435 seats in the U.S. House.

Having an extra seat in Congress can translate into extra clout in Washington, giving the state one more person going to bat for state and local interests and another lawmaker making policy.

Due to the longtime trend of residents gravitating to the South and West and comparative losses in the Midwest, both Carolinas were projected to gain a seat based on 2007 figures analyzed by Polidata, a demographic and political research firm.

But based on 2008 data from the Census, North Carolina looked like it would fall just below the cut.

"You can't really tell if they'll fall above or below, but at least it's in the mix," said Clark Bensen, who runs Polidata.

Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services, another political demographer, agreed that North Carolina was on track to gain a seat based on the population trend in recent years. But if just last year's growth — slower than it had been compared to other states — turns out to be a truer gauge of what the count will be in 2010, the state would fall under the threshold, he said.

"One of the things we saw in this round of data is the beginnings of what's happening in the housing market and foreclosure and how people are suddenly slowing down and not moving as much as they used to," Brace said.

Bensen said the impact of the recession on relocation is still playing out. "People tend to want to go where jobs are," he said. "It depends on whether North Carolina or South Carolina have jobs."

Brace said North Carolina could be pushed over the top by its military overseas count, just as it was in 2000 to get its 13th seat. Brace and Bensen agree that the military count could be an even bigger factor this time than it was a decade ago because of the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.