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6-Month Delay In Census Redistricting Data Could Throw Elections Into Chaos

A census supporter holds up a sign during a 2020 rally in  New York City.
A census supporter holds up a sign during a 2020 rally in New York City.

Updated at 1:49 p.m. ET

The 2020 census data needed for the redrawing of voting districts around the country are extremely delayed and now expected by Sept. 30.

A senior Democratic aide who was briefed by the Census Bureau on Friday, but not authorized to speak ahead of the bureau's planned public announcement, first confirmed the schedule change to NPR earlier on Friday.

Then, in a statement, the bureau saidthe timing shift allows it to "deliver complete and accurate redistricting data in a more timely fashion overall for the states," which are expected to receive the information at the same time rather than on a rolling basis as after past head counts.

Dogged by the coronavirus pandemic and the Trump administration's interference with the census schedule, the latest expected release date — six months past the March 31 legal deadline — could throw upcoming elections into chaos in states facing tight redistricting deadlines for Congress, as well as state and local offices.

Before the latest delay, first reported by The New York Times, was confirmed, the bureau had been signaling since April 2020 that states would likely receive redistricting data by the end of this July. But last month, the bureau tried to reset expectations to after July 30. The statistical agency, a bureau official explained, needed more time to run quality checks on duplicate and incomplete census responses.

Since counting ended in October, the bureau has been trying to sort through irregularities in records from college dormitories and other group living quarters, plus a higher than usual number of responses gathered without preassigned "Census ID" codes that help with matching addresses.

The bureau has also pushed back the release of new state population counts that determine each state's new share of 435 seats in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. Those numbers are now expected sometime within the range of April 16-30.

Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, along with Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans from Alaska, announced Friday they plan to introduce a new Senate bill that formally extends the legal reporting deadlines for census results.

"The Census Bureau should take all the time it needs to report its data and make sure every person is counted as mandated by the Constitution," Schatz said in a statement. "Our bill would extend these statutory deadlines and ensure that we get a fair, accurate count."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.