Montana More Likely to Gain a Second Congressional District

Photo by Don Pogreba

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Montana is looking likely to gain a second Congressional District following the 2020 Census:

The figures from the Census Bureau measure changes to state populations for the year ended July 1. Because they come less than a year before the next decennial census, they are a close approximation for which states will gain and lose congressional seats and electoral votes based on the 2020 count that gets fully under way this spring.

Based on Monday’s figures, Texas is poised to gain two congressional seats, and Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon are expected to gain one.

Montana fought hard to keep its two seats following the 1990 Census, going to court to try to block an apportionment process that meant the state had the largest (by population) district in the country, a distinction our state still holds:

According to the 1990 Census, the ideal congressional district would contain 572,000 people. But the automatic reapportionment process would leave Montana with one district of 800,000 residents–the most-populated district in the nation.

But the state’s legal fight couldn’t overcome what was 50-year precedent at the time and we lost the second seat we’d held since 1913.

After the 1992 showdown between Pat Williams and Ron Marlenee and Williams’s subsequent retirement from Congress in 1997, Montana’s sole Congressional district has been firmly in Republican hands, but the last election between Greg Gianforte and Kathleen Williams was a close one, with Gianforte winning by only a 4% margin.

The closeness of that race and big demographic changes in Montana will make the districting process fascinating if Montana does win a second seat. While this may be the rare political news that will please both Montana Democrats and Republicans, expect a tussle to maximize political advantage between the two parties. I’ll dig into some maps and see what I can find over the next few days.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • I don’t know what analysis you are using to come to your conclusion. All other indications are that Texas will gain three Congressional districts, and Florida will gain two. If you project the estimated July 1, 2019 population ahead nine months to the April 1, 2020 census date, the population growth since 2010 would result in Montana earning 1.42 districts, unrounded. That isn’t even close to enough to earn a second district. Rhode Island, which currently has two districts, will earn 1.40 districts after the 2020 census, and will certainly lose one of the two it has now. Of four other states that are at risk of losing a district, but just barely (Alabama, California, Minnesota, and Ohio), only one of them will probably retain its current apportionment — but any one of the four will have a better chance of doing so than Montana will have of gaining a seat.

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