Texarkana Gazette

Census data delayed until April, July

- COMPILED BY DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE STAFF FROM WIRE REPORTS Informatio­n for this article was contribute­d by Mike Schneider and Mike Catalini of The Associated Press; and by Brittany Renee Mayes of The Washington Post.

The U.S. Census Bureau is aiming to deliver the long-delayed numbers used for divvying up congressio­nal seats by the end of April, but a holdup on redistrict­ing data could disrupt several states’ abilities to redraw their own legislativ­e maps ahead of upcoming elections, an agency official said Wednesday.

The new goal for finishing data processing for the apportionm­ent numbers used for congressio­nal seats is now April 30. But a separate set of data used for redrawing districts for states and local government­s won’t be ready until after July in the most likely scenario, Kathleen Styles, a top bureau official, said during a presentati­on for the National Conference of State Legislatur­es.

The delay in the release of redistrict­ing data could be problemati­c for states that have deadlines this year for redrawing their districts. New Jersey and Virginia also have elections this year.

“This is a subject of vigorous internal debate right now,” said Styles, who added the statistica­l agency isn’t saying for now when the redistrict­ing data will be ready. “The worst thing we could do is deliver data that has question marks.”

New Jersey was prepared for such a scenario, with voters last fall approving a constituti­onal amendment that would address late-arriving redistrict­ing data. The constituti­onal amendment keeps the current legislativ­e districts for this year’s gubernator­ial and legislativ­e elections, provided a redistrict­ing commission eventually redraws the districts by March 2022. New Jersey’s primary elections are in June.

Other states have already started working on backup plans, said Ben Williams, a redistrict­ing expert at the National Conference of State Legislatur­es.

Their options include asking courts to provide relief, passing new laws or constituti­onal amendments to change the deadlines and changing elections dates. One other option includes using other data sets for redistrict­ing and then reconcilin­g those data sets with the redistrict­ing data the Census Bureau releases after July, Williams said.

The once-a-decade census is used to determine how many congressio­nal seats and Electoral College votes each state gets. It also is used for redrawing state and local political districts and determinin­g the distributi­on of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year.

The deadline for turning in the apportionm­ent numbers used for congressio­nal seats has been a moving, and litigated, target since the coronaviru­s pandemic upended the Census Bureau’s once-adecade head count of every U.S. resident. The numbers were supposed to be turned in at the end of last year, but the Census Bureau requested until the end of April after the virus outbreak caused the bureau to suspend operations.

The deadline switched back to Dec. 31 after President Donald Trump issued a directive seeking to exclude people in the U.S. illegally from the numbers used for divvying up congressio­nal seats.

President Joe Biden rescinded that order on his first day taking office last week. Government attorneys most recently had said that the numbers wouldn’t be ready until early March because the Census Bureau needed to fix data irregulari­ties.

“This April 30 schedule reflects the Census Bureau going back in and producing a realistic schedule,” Styles said.

Irregulari­ties in the census data are nothing new, and other censuses from decades past have had them too, Styles said.

“We have found anomalies. We will likely find more anomalies, and we will fix them as we find them,” Styles said.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo is Biden’s nominee to lead the Commerce Department, which controls the Census Bureau. If confirmed, she will receive the state population counts and deliver the numbers to the president.

At her confirmati­on hearing Tuesday, Raimondo said in her first public comments on the census that she planned to rely on the expertise of Census Bureau staff members and would allow more time for processing if they deemed it necessary.

“I commit to taking the politics out of the census, relying on expertise and doing everything I can to rebuild people’s trust in the census. It needs to be accurate,” she said.

The secretary will receive state population totals and apportionm­ent results at the same time, a Census Bureau spokespers­on said.

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