The U.S. Census Bureau unveiled the 2020 state population counts, determining how many U.S. House seats and electoral votes each state will receive for the next 10 years. While we know what states will lose or gain a congressional seat, state officials are still missing the detailed data they need to draw official district lines. 

The delay in releasing the detailed data from the 2020 census is wreaking havoc on many state legislatures. States also rely on this data to draw the district lines that determine state Senate and House legislative districts and other local offices. 

 Census

This map, provided by our partners at National Journal, shows how census delays will impact redistricting processes across the country. 

In a normal year, the U.S. Census Bureau would release the data in March 2021, but the COVID-19 pandemic has postponed the release of that data until September 2021 or later. But some states, like New Jersey and Virginia, hold off-year state elections, and they cannot wait until two months before election day to draw state legislative district line. 

Countless states face various constitutional or statutory deadlines. According to the National Conference Of State Legislatures (NCSL)25 states face various deadlines in 2021 and the delays could prove insurmountable to overcome in a shortened timeline. 

The delay has forced states to get creative, with some asking the courts to allow the state to extend their redistricting deadlines. Even that approach is laden with its own hurdles. The Oregon State Legislature asked its Supreme Court for an extension on its redistricting deadline, but the Oregon Secretary of State disagreed with the legislatures assessment and opposes the delay.  

Others are using population estimates to begin the process of redrawing new district lines. While that approach may aid states drawing state legislative lines, it does not help state draw new Congressional lines. The U.S. Census data is essential for determining how many seats a state gets in the House, and while states can best guess if they may gain or lose a seat, that approach is fraught with risk. 

No state wants to be in a scenario where they use estimated or modeled population data to draw state legislative district lines, hold an election in 2021 or 2022, then have those results overturned in the courts. Court intervention and delay in election is not unheard of nor an impossibility. Nearly a decade ago, courts twice delayed the Texas primaries because of legal challenges to the legislative district maps. 

As states attempt to navigate the impact of the census delay on drawing new district lines, potential candidates are lining up to run for office. Obviously potential candidates would like to know the exact details of the district they are running for, but that reality may not happen until later, leaving candidates guessing. 

Potential candidates are not the only ones impacted with delays in legislative district lines. Election administrators need sufficient time to prepare ballots with the correct candidates for votes. Administrators need to complete that early enough to mail ballots to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before an election 

If you have questions about AEM’s state advocacy efforts or want to get involved, contact AEM’s Stephanie See at ssee@aem.org.

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