South Carolina stands to gain a seventh congressional seat if population projections hold for the 2010 census.
At least two national groups predict South Carolina will be one of eight states gaining seats because of growing populations.
However, gaining a seat hinges on a slim margin, making it critical for census organizers to count all South Carolinians.
If the state gains a congressional seat, it would fall to the Legislature to decide which part of the state would be in the new district.
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However, U.S. House Minority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said the district would be added along the coast, which has seen the most growth.
The congressional districts with the highest growth have been the 1st, which stretches from Charleston to Horry County; 2nd, which runs from Beaufort to Lexington; and 5th, which includes York and Lancaster counties, said Bobby Bowers, director of the S.C. Office of Research and Statistics, which tracks the state's population.
S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said adding a seventh district will result in changes to the state's existing six districts. "You'd end up with several districts getting redrawn," he said.
The state's population is projected to grow only slightly more than the amount needed to add a seventh seat, making it critical to count every resident, Bowers said. "If we get a good count, I think we stand a chance to get a seventh one," he said.
The House of Representatives has 435 members. Each state elects a number of representatives based on its population in the census, which is held every 10 years.
South Carolina hasn't had seven representatives in the U.S. House since it lost a seat after the 1930 census, said Mike Sponhour, spokesman for the S.C. Budget and Control Board.
Last December, Election Data Services, a national political consulting firm that specializes in redistricting, said South Carolina was on track to add a congressional seat.
Kimball Brace, president of Election Data, said his projection was based on the Census Bureau's 2008 population estimate and the state's growth trends during the past decade.
If that growth pattern continues, the state would qualify for a new seat by 19,000 people, Brace said. Lose those 19,000, and the seventh district would be lost too, he said.
"It is very close for South Carolina," he said. "They are just on the bubble."
If, for instance, the state has lost residents because of the recession, it could remain a six-representative state, Brace said.
America's Voice, a group that supports immigration reform that is favorable to immigrants, used Brace's study and other estimates Tuesday to say South Carolina could gain a new seat because of its growing Latino population.
In the past 10 years, an estimated 88,000 Latinos have moved to South Carolina, accounting for 19 percent of the state's new residents, America's Voice reported. Without those immigrants, the state would not be on the verge of adding a congressional seat, the group says.
While South Carolina has seen an influx of Latino immigrants, most of its growth has come from people moving from other states, Bowers said. "We've had good, sustained growth."
Experts said the bottom line is the state's additional congressional seat will come by the slimmest of margins. That's why S.C. census organizers are feeling urgency as the 2010 count looms.
Billions of federal dollars hang in the balance. Each year, an average of $400 billion is distributed to states based on census numbers, Bowers said.
"I would hope that everyone living in South Carolina would participate in the census next year to ensure our state receives the representation and funding it deserves," Clyburn said.