In 2020, the population count was interrupted by COVID-19. The U.S. Census Bureau suspended the count from March through May because of the pandemic. When the count began again, the cutoff date was uncertain, eventually wrapping up in October. On reservations like Fort Peck, severely sickened by COVID-19, bans on travel prevented enumerators from going door to door until the final days of the count. The numbers the enumerators planned for never materialized. There were half as many Census workers knocking on doors in Montana than expected.
Joe Lamson, a Democrat on the five-member districting committee, said there’s ample interest among Democrats in running for a Western Montana House district. The region favored Democrats back in Montana’s two-district days.
Western Montana’s last Representative, Democrat Pat Williams, went on to win Montana’s at-large seat twice before retiring. Since 1996, the state’s only House seat has belonged to Republicans.
A western district wouldn’t be a slam dunk for Democratic candidates, Lamson said. Two of the region’s fastest growing counties are Republican strongholds. One of the old district’s mainstays, Silver Bow County, has declined in population since its mining heyday.
“The key bit of information is, are we going to get a second seat? That would occur on April 30. If you’re serious about running, there’s going to be two districts. One of them is going to be red. That’s the demography of the state. The other one is going to be a competitive district,” Lamson said. “If you’re a congressional candidate, that’s all you really need to know. There’s no residency requirement to live in the district. The U.S. Constitution just says you have to be from the state. It gives people 11 months to make their final decision.”