The Census Bureau will not release data states rely on to carve up congressional districts until late September, possibly complicating the 2022 midterm election.
(CN) — The U.S Census Bureau announced Friday that it would further delay the delivery of data states use to redraw congressional districts until the end of September.
The data is typically delivered at the end of the year in which the census is taken, with apportionment beginning in March.
But an unprecedented pandemic and court battles over data collection meant the bureau moved back the delivery date until late July and most recently until September.
“The biggest reason? Covid-19,” bureau official Kathleen Styles told The Associated Press. “It’s something beyond the Census Bureau’s control.”
The bureau had already delayed the data delivery once until April, but the further delay complicates the all-important apportionment process.
Apportionment is the process whereby legislatures and other appointed bodies divide states into congressional districts based on population counts delivered by the census.
The delays could potentially cause headaches for states eager to finalize their congressional maps in advance of a contentious battle for the House of Representatives in 2022.
Styles also announced the census bureau would release data related to population counts, demographic numbers related to race, gender, voting age and house occupancy status all at once rather than incrementally, as in years prior.
The delays are particularly difficult for certain states that carry deadlines for redistricting that occurs before they can now expect to receive the complete data. If districts are redrawn, some candidates may have to move or be ineligible to run for office from their current address.
Redistricting is often a contentious partisan process that can be lengthy. The delay means some states may have to push back their primaries to accommodate new districts.
“This means that redistricting now will take place in October or November & in special sessions in most states (which are often rushed affairs more prone to abuse) and that there will be less time to challenge bad maps in court before the 2022 cycle starts,” said Michael Li of the Brennan Center, a law and policy think tank.
Several lawyers have expressed concern that the compressed time frame will not allow enough time to challenge redistricting by the time the 2022 primaries begin.
“Texas also could postpone its 2022 primary under a proposed bill if maps are not done by Sept. 1 because of data delays,” Li said.
Speaking with reporters Friday, James Whitehorne of the Census Bureau said the agency is aware of the urgent need to get out the data but is constrained in its ability to meet previous deadlines.
“We are consistently aware of the urgency and needs of the states for this data,” Whitehorne said.
Redistricting has become a flashpoint for partisan warfare in recent decades, with members of both parties castigating each other for gerrymandering districts.
Eric Holder, former attorney general under President Barack Obama, is the chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. He issued a warning Friday that the compressed schedule could be used as a rationale for redistricting malfeasance.
“I will oppose any such efforts,” Holder told The Associated Press.
Friday’s announcement came after a bipartisan group of senators passed legislation to give the Census Bureau the extra time it needs to deliver results.
The apportionment process is not the only important aspect derived from the once-in-a-decade census, as the number of electoral votes allotted to each state is also on the line. Furthermore, federal grants are determined by population numbers derived from the census.
The 2020 census was characterized by partisan acrimony, as the Trump administration curtailed the data collection process by a full month due to the coronavirus. However, some cities, counties and civil rights organizations sued the Trump administration in federal court, claiming it was using the pandemic to undercount various urban areas that tend to skew Democratic in order to underhandedly affect the balance of power in Congress.
The case is still pending, with U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh recently agreeing to stay the case since the parties are now more amicably inclined with the transition in presidential administrations.
Yet another point of contention was whether to include illegal immigrants in the census count. The Trump administration attempted to restrict the count exclusively to U.S. citizens, but President Joe Biden recently signed an executive order that effectively ends such an attempt.