CHN: 2020 Census Operations Delayed; Advocates Fear Impact on Redistricting, Minority Representation

The Census Bureau in April announced it is requesting Congress delay for four months its deadline for reporting census data that will be used in 2021 and beyond to draw political boundaries at the local, state, and congressional level. Congressional approval for the change in deadline is required, and could be included in the next coronavirus response package.

The current deadline for reporting data is Dec. 31. However, acknowledging the effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on data collection, the Census Bureau requested that the deadline be extended to April 30, 2021. The Bureau also announced that it will begin opening its field offices sometime after June 1, and will extend the deadline for collecting household data from Aug. 15 to Oct. 31.

According to the New York Times, a four-month delay would mean that states will not get the final data they need for redistricting until July 31, 2021 – long after some states have adjourned their legislative sessions.

This could cause problems, the newspaper reports. Some states have fixed deadlines to approve political maps – deadlines that in some cases are even written into their state constitutions. This has sparked fears that some states could use other data besides that provided by the Census Bureau for political apportionment.

The U.S. Constitution requires states to use census data for drawing political districts. But courts have left the door open for states to use different population figures to draw maps. Republicans in some states have floated the idea of excluding noncitizens from counts or only include registered voters. While either approach would invite heated court challenges, any successful effort to redistrict this way would result in disenfranchising minority voters and diluting their representation.

Advocates for a fair and accurate 2020 Census still do not know if the Census Bureau will need additional funds to carry out its mandate in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The Bureau expects to spend $1.5 billion more on advertising and on census field staff – “enumerators” – because of the shift in timeline. It has $2 billion in contingency funds and as of now is not requesting additional funds beyond this from Congress, but advocates and some in Congress are skeptical that the $2 billion will cover those additional expenses with enough available if other emergencies unrelated to the coronavirus should arise.