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Why Utah, the fastest-growing state in the country, failed to win a fifth seat in Congress

New census numbers show Utah’s population grew 18.4% over the past decade.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) A voter drops off her ballot at the drop-off location in Lehi, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Utah’s population grew 18.4% over the past decade, and it's likely the 4th Congressional District will become more Republican after the next round of redistricting

Utah was the fastest-growing state between 2010 and 2020, but it wasn’t enough to give the state an additional seat in Congress.

Utah’s population grew 18.4% over the past decade, the largest percentage increase in the country according to new U.S. Census Bureau data released Monday.

The Beehive State’s population count from the 2020 census is now 3,275,252. The state’s population increased by 507,731 between the 2010 and 2020 population counts, making Utah the 30th most populous state.

Overall, the U.S. population grew 7.4% between 2010 and 2020, the second slowest rate in history, just behind the 7.3% rate from 1930 to 1940.

The census figures determine how the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are divided among the states. Utah gained a fourth seat in 2010 after narrowly missing out in 2000.

Utah’s 4th Congressional District was created after the 2010 census, and it has changed party control four times over the past five election cycles, making it one of the few competitive districts in the country over the past decade.

Republican Burgess Owens squeaked past Democrat Ben McAdams by roughly 3,700 votes in November 2020. Michael Li, senior counsel of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, says that with the needed population reduction, it’s likely that seat will become more Republican after the next round of redistricting.

“I don’t think it would be difficult to create a gerrymander that would make that district a lot safer for Republicans,” said Li, who specializes in redistricting issues.

Utah led the nation in percentage population growth from 2010 to 2020, according to census data released Monday.

Utah voters approved an anti-gerrymandering ballot measure in 2018 that created an independent commission to draw new political boundaries.

Utah lawmakers defanged the commission in 2020, demoting it to an advisory role.

State-level numbers, which will determine the remaining political boundaries, will be available by Sept. 30. The final maps will be drawn by the 20-member legislative committee later this year.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall tweeted Monday that Utah’s growth is an important challenge.

“In #slc we’re working to harness this incredible growth for good by transforming our capital city into a place that values equity and access for every single Salt Laker. It’s a tremendous opportunity and responsibility,” she said.

Only seven seats shifted among states this year. Texas gained the most, adding two.

Utah’s neighbor to the east, Colorado, added one seat, as did Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon. California lost a seat for the first time.

Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia also will have one fewer seat in Congress. New York fell just 89 people short of not losing a seat. Ohio, Texas, Florida, Arizona, California, Virginia, Idaho, Michigan and New Jersey also just missed out on adding another seat to the 2020 total.

More change for the 4th

When Utah lawmakers get down to the business of drawing the new boundaries of the state’s four congressional seats, they’ll cram 818,813 people in each.

As it stands now, Utah’s 4th Congressional District will have to shed more than 31,000 voters, while the other three seats need to gain population.

“Utah’s 4th District is one of the districts people around the country will be watching closely,” Li said.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, tweeted that he was not surprised by the state’s huge growth.

“Our beautiful landscapes, business and family-friendly policies, and endless opportunities are hard to beat. How we grow matters and we must manage this rapid growth strategically,” he said.

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