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Census 2000: Apportionment & Representation

"Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers,... The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct."

-- Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States

Today, American city and state leaders use US Census data for planning and getting federal funds for new schools, roads, hospitals, parks, housing projects and hundreds of other beneficial public projects. But the requirement for the government to conduct the census every 10 years (a "decennial" census) comes from the Constitution.

The Founding Fathers were looking for a way to fairly distribute the cost of the Revolutionary War among the states. At the same time, they wanted to create a truly representative government by using each state's population to determine its number of members in the House of Representatives. The first census, conducted in 1790, was their way of accomplishing both. 

Fairness and accuracy of the census were of the highest importance to the Founding Fathers. They felt that by using the census to determine taxes, states would be discouraged from "fudging" their populations upward to increase their representation in Congress. While the census was no longer used in tax collection after 1913 when the 16th Amendment established direct individual taxation, its role in maintaining representative government remains as important today as ever.


The first census in 1790 counted 4 million Americans. Based on that count, the total number of members elected to the House of Representatives grew from the original 65 to 106. The current House membership of 435 was set by Congress in 1911.

"Apportionment" is the process of allocating the 435 House seats among the states according to the population of each state. The exact formula used for apportionment was created by mathematicians and politicians and adopted by Congress in 1941 as the "Equal Proportions" formula (Title 2, Section 2a, U. S. Code). For further information on how Equal Proportions is used to determine the number of Congressional seats in each state, see... Computing Apportionment, by the US Census Bureau.

Redistricting: "One-Man-One-Vote"

But, apportionment is only half the battle of achieving fair representation. States use census data for redrawing or "redistricting" their Congressional districts after apportionment. According to Supreme Court rulings, states must draw Congressional Districts so that the voting power of any group of persons in the district is neither increased or decreased. This often controversial concept is traditionally called "one-man-one-vote."

In an attempt to increase the accuracy and fairness of redistricting, Public Law 94-171, passed by Congress in 1975. Under P.L. 94-171, the Census Bureau is required to "work closely" with state officials before each decennial census. The Census Bureau and state officials utilize the "small-area population" data from the Census to redraw Congressional Districts in the fairest way possible. 

Under the provisions of P.L. 94-171, the data needed for redistricting are delivered to the majority and minority leaders of each state legislature, as well as to each governor.

The actual effectiveness of this method of district drawing in achieving fair and equal representation is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say, the process has, in some cases, been abused and politicized. Strange district boundaries designed especially to give a political party an advantage over its opponents have been allowed in the past. This process, known as "gerrymandering" has led some people to favor doing away with the Congressional District system completely and choosing all members of Congress in "at large" elections. Since such a change would require an Amendment to the Constitution, the current system is likely to remain in place for quite a while.

Since 1990, the Census Bureau has assisted state and local groups in achieving fair representation of their needs. A few examples include: the National Organization of Black County Officials, the National Association of Counties, the National Conference of State Legislatures, Asian Pacific American Municipal Officials, Hispanic Elected Local Officials, the National League of Cities, the Alaska Federation of Natives, the National Congress of American Indians and the National Association of Towns and Townships.

Census 2000 Redistricting

Since the planning stages, Governor's liaisons and tribal government liaisons have been working with the Census Bureau to ensure that all residents understand and take part in Census 2000. For more information on how the Census Bureau is working to support fair and equal redistricting, see... Census 2000 Redistricting.

In many ways, answering the census is as important as voting to our democratic process. A complete and accurate census is our best way of providing every person in America an equal voice in Congress.

For more information about Census 2000, visit the Census Bureau's Web Site at:

Return to Census 2000 Index


Also on US Government Info/Resources

Census 2000 Fast Facts
What's the schedule for Census 2000? What's on the Census form? What is there to be counted?

Why Should You Answer the Census?
Find out how your community depends on a complete and accurate census.

Jobs at the Census Bureau? Count on It!
Thousands of full and part time workers across the nation are being hired now.


Related About.com Resources

Will Census 2000 Hurt Blacks?
African-American Culture Guide, R. Jeneen Jones, examines how Census 2000's new method for identifying race may actually work against African-Americans.

The Definition of Self
Will the new expanded race classifications of Census 2000 address the needs of multiracial individuals? Race Relations Guide, Kimberly Hohman reports.

Census 2000: Geography NetLinks
Links to all you need to know about the geographic tools of Census 2000 from Geography Guide, Matt Rosenberg.

Asian American Groups Gear Up
Guide Vincent Law reports why an accurate count in Census 2000 is of vital importance to Asian-Americans and what APA groups are doing to it happens.


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