Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Census Counts!

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution mandates that a nation-wide census be conducted every 10 years. The country’s first census was taken in 1790 when our population was only about 4 million people; by the last census count our population exceeded 280 million! The next census will be conducted in 2010. What will be the effect of the new information gathered by the census?

The constitutional imperative for the census is the reapportionment of congressional seats in the House of Representatives. States must redraw districts every ten years in response to the census data. Virginia’s State Legislature was considering a bill that would have changed the way Virginia redraws its voting districts, but a House vote yesterday voted against the bill’s passage.

Redistricting often gives rise to political battles. For the first time in recent history, Democrats will control both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government while a census is taken. Political parties in power have historically exercised an advantage when it comes to redistricting - this ploy became known as “gerrymandering” as a play on the name of politician Elbridge Gerry. Gerry was one of three members of the 1787 Constitutional Convention who did not sign the constitution. To learn Gerry’s story and to learn about the other delegates to the convention, consider taking an Ipod tour of Signers Hall.

Teaching the Census:
This interactive map on display at the National Constitution Center makes it easy for visual learners to see how changes in demographics lead to changes in representation. Ask your students to observe the population shifts over time and to identify the historical events responsible for the growth or loss of population in each state.

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