Census Delays May Impact States With 2021 Elections

Even though the Census Bureau is working under a compressed timeline, experts say states should still prepare for delays in receiving data that they will use to redraw their legislative and congressional districts, CBS News reports.

Because of coronavirus, the deadline of when states were scheduled to receive data for apportionment, which determines how many congressional districts states are allotted based on population, has been pushed back. 

After a back-and-forth on deadline dates, states are currently scheduled to receive their data by March 31, 2021, according to the Census Bureau.  

According to the Census, 65% of households have responded so far.

New Jersey and Virginia are both set to hold state legislature and gubernatorial elections in 2021. If they don’t receive the data from the census in time, they will be unable to draw up new legislative maps and carry out their elections, according to CBS News.

Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center, told CBS News it would be close to “impossible” for the two states to draw new maps if data isn’t delivered by the end of summer. But given the levels of data that states will need, he said the “prudent thing for states would still be to plan for some sort of delay.”

If data comes in too late in Virginia, the state will likely ask the state attorney general for approval to use its current maps for 2021.

New Jersey is already planning to put its redistricting on hold and use current maps for the 2021 election. The New Jersey Legislature approved a ballot amendment saying if the data is not delivered by February 15, 2021, the current maps will be use for the 2021 elections.

The ballot measure was proposed by Assemblyman John McKeon who said the state won’t get high-quality census data in time to redistrict. State Senator Nick Scutari, who sponsored the amendment, said he is concerned that rushing the redistricting process could result in an undercount, which could impact representation and federal funding for the state.

McKeon said the state could go to court if the Census Bureau “tries to shove numbers down our throat that are going to be inaccurate and cost us multi-millions, if not billions, of dollars over the next ten years.”

“They’re going to a plan of, ‘Don’t worry about it. We can accurately predict from what we have.’ I mean, give me a break,” McKeon told CBS News. 

The Office of Inspector General is also worried the Census Bureau doesn’t have enough employees to meet its deadline. It wrote a letter on Aug. 18 highlighting concerns.

The Government Accountability Office also released a report warning the timeframe may undermine the quality of the count.

The Census Bureau issued a statement saying it would “improve the speed of our count without sacrificing completeness.”

“Our commitment to a complete and accurate 2020 Census is absolute,” said Census Bureau director Dr. Steven Dillingham.

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