Delayed census data throws redistricting process for states into chaos

The U.S. Census Bureau won’t be releasing population data needed to redraw state legislative and congressional district boundaries until Sept. 30—six months after that data is typically made available.

The latest pandemic-spurred delay, announced by bureau officials on Friday, further scrambles the once-a-decade redistricting process for states with deadlines looming this year, Louisiana Illuminator reports

It also wreaks havoc on the 2022 elections, with prospective candidates uncertain whether they’ll still be living within a district’s boundaries.

For some states, like Colorado, the new timeline makes it impossible to craft and approve new maps by their constitutionally mandated deadline.

States are weighing a number of options, including holding special sessions later this fall—as Louisiana is likely to do—asking state courts for help, and using preliminary population data to begin redoing district maps. 

Those attempting to draft maps before the final data may face another wrinkle: uncertainty over the number of congressional seats in their federal delegation next year. 

The Census Bureau was scheduled to detail by the end of December 2020 how many congressional seats will go to each state. That announcement is six weeks late, and now isn’t expected until late April.

In their news release announcing the new date for releasing the detailed population data used in redistricting, the Census Bureau said staffers have been in touch with state officials “to understand the impacts of the delayed delivery.” 

Bureau officials also said they’ve released the other geographic tools, such as updated political boundaries, so states can prepare.

Louisiana’s constitution calls for redistricting in the year after the census, meaning it must get done in 2021. Read the full story.