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The US has a census every 10 years and the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned to reflect the population change. Sometimes states lose seats. New York state had 45 seats in the 1940's and has lost between 2 and 5 seats for every subsequent census.

What happens to the representatives for those districts that are lost?

I understand that representatives have to campaign for their reelection every two years, including both primaries and the general election. Even so, after a census the party members need to decide which of their representatives campaign for which newly-formed congressional districts and which get booted out. Do they typically do this through gentleman's agreements, primary contests or some other means?

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    I don't think there is a single method for this and it will depend on the state and the members in question.
    – Joe W
    Nov 2 '20 at 1:11
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    Fun fact: the US Constitution requires House Reps to be residents of the state, but not necessarily the district.
    – Damila
    Nov 2 '20 at 1:43
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    In fact, the Constitution doesn't require that there be districts. Federal law currently does, but it could be changed to have statewide elections with a multi-winner method (like STV).
    – dan04
    Nov 2 '20 at 1:51
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    If the party in power is anywhere close to competent, they will take advantage of the census and gerrymander. Except for the seven states (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming) that have only one representative in the House, states redraw their congressional boundaries every ten years. Ever improving analytics means the party in control can make their control be well out of proportion to how the population votes. Nov 2 '20 at 11:47
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Let's look at the last post-redistricting election (2012). There were ten states that lost House seats from the previous election.

New York (-2 seats) took advantage of the fact that multiple incumbents were retiring to eliminate two districts, one from each party.

Ohio (-2 seats) put two incumbent Democrats against each other in one district, and two incumbent Republicans in another district, thus not changing the balance of power.

Iowa (-1 seat), with its unique approach to redistricting, had a competitive election between incumbents of both parties. The Republican won, 52.3% to 43.6%.

The other seven states affected put two incumbents from the same party into one new district, ensuring that only one of them could get re-nominated and re-elected.

  • Illinois (-1 R)
  • Louisiana (-1 R)
  • Massachusetts (-1 D)
  • Michigan (-1 D)
  • Missouri (-1 D)
  • New Jersey (-1 D)
  • Pennsylvania (-1 D)

This may have been done for the other party's partisan advantage, except in Massachusetts, where the Republicans had already been shut out of the House, so there was no choice but to eliminate a Democrat.

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  • Those weren't the only states affected. In Southern California, the majority of two districts were combined together, leading to a fairly heated campaign between the two Democrat incumbents, Berman and Sherman Nov 2 '20 at 3:46
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    The way you've phrased this answer makes it sound like each state was responsible for choosing how to accomplish its redistricting. Is that correct? Nov 2 '20 at 12:03
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    @curiousdannii, yes, each state is in control of redistricting. Back in 2010, the Republicans developed a strategy to focus on state legislatures for exactly this reason (see REDMAP ).
    – PGnome
    Nov 2 '20 at 14:07
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Do they typically do this through gentleman's agreements, primary contests or some other means?

In the vast majority of districts there will be primaries for the newly created district to determine who runs for that district in the general election. In the past, there were certainly 'gentleman's agreements' that guided this process to the point where a common phrase was "the party decides". In other words, even though there have been popular primaries since the 70s, the party leaders had significant power in choosing winners and losers of the contests. The tea party and later the progressive populists have made a mockery of this concept, with the party leaders themselves falling victim to rising populism. Notable examples of this are Eric Cantor (7 term incumbent republican party leader defeated by Dave Brat), Joseph Crowley (defeated by AOC) and of course Trump.

Even so, after a census the party members need to decide which of their representatives campaign for which newly-formed congressional districts and which get booted out.

As the examples of Cantor and Crowley clearly show, this assertion is not correct regardless if we are talking about redistricting or not.

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