Nov 18, 2019
Billings native Dr. Peter Miller says chances are good that Montana will gain a second U.S. congressional seat following the 2020 Census.
Miller, a researcher at the Brennan Center For Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at the New York University School of Law, has spent his career studying redistricting, voting, and elections.
The United States reapportions its 435 congressional seats every 10 years on the basis of state population. While seven states could conceivably gain a seat after 2020, Miller says a variety of calculation methods point to a consistent conclusion: Montana getting a second congressional seat for the first time since the 1990s, when it lost its second seat following the 1990 Census. Miller says that as a result of steady population gains in the state, Montana’s Rep. Greg Gianforte now represents “the largest congressional district in the country.”
The potential for a second seat in the Congress brings both opportunity and risk for both political parties in Montana. As Miller explains, “Every 10 years we have this moment where we adjust district lines for the purposes of accounting for population shifts. However, it’s also a means by which legislative majorities have a potential to lock themselves into power for the next 10 years.”
Miller describes how this potential can differ from state to state: After a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed states to administer their own internal legislative boundaries, some states continued to do so via their state legislatures. Montana, however, was one of the first states to transfer the duty to a non-legislative redistricting commission, a change adopted at the state’s 1972 Constitutional Convention. The state’s Districting and Apportionment Commission consists of five members, with majority and minority members of the state House and Senate appointing one member each. Those four members collectively elect a fifth presiding officer. The commission oversees legislative boundaries for both federal and state legislatures.
The process of redistricting has grown highly contentious in recent years, with battles playing out in state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. Miller traveled the country as part of his doctoral dissertation, attending numerous redistricting-related court hearings to gain insight into the various ways states address the issue, and the extent to which citizens might influence the process.
Miller talked with Montana Free Press editor-in-chief John S. Adams during a Nov. 14 interview for the Montana Lowdown podcast.