Census: What's the Deal?

With its first release of data on the 2010 Census tomorrow, the U.S. Census Bureau prepares to bring to a close its latest 10-year, $14 billion effort to fulfill the mandate of the Constitution and count every individual in America.

In a news conference at 11 a.m. ET Tuesday, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Census Bureau Director Robert Groves, a soft-spoken statistics expert and University of Michigan professor, will unveil population data for the nation as a whole and for each of the 50 states. He will also disclose the number of seats in the House of Representatives that each state will now be accorded, based on the latest counts.

This redistribution of House seats, a process known as "apportionment," is one of the most important political developments of each decade. The state of Texas, for example, is expected to see gains in the number of lawmakers it sends to the House, while New York, for example, is expected to lose seats. This makes a given state's power on Capitol Hill stronger or weaker.

As well, once the reapportionment is complete, it triggers within each state, as a matter of law, the redrawing of the boundaries for that state's congressional districts. This is a process known as "redistricting." In theory, the idea is to keep the number of residents that each member of the House represents roughly the same. Right now, each congressional district houses approximately 650,000 residents.

In practice, however, the process of redistricting is controlled by individual state legislatures, often with considerable input from state governors. Because the Republican Party picked up so many governorships in the 2010 midterm elections, and also claimed control of many state legislatures, GOP officials will exert a strong hand in the redrawing of the districts. With that power of the process, they can be expected, as the Democrats have done in similar circumstances, to carve up the districts in such a way as to try to perpetuate their control of the House.

One set of statistics the Census Bureau will not be releasing on Tuesday is the racial and ethnic data the bureau compiled during its counting this year. That will come in February, as the redistricting process begins in earnest and the Census bureau works closely with state offices to ensure it is based on accurate information.

James Rosen joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in 1999 and is the network’s chief Washington correspondent.