Census delayed by virus again

U.S. Census Bureau officials have once more pushed back the delivery date for data that will be used for redrawing congressional, state and local legislative districts. Now they say it will be the end of September before we have answers.

“The biggest reason? COVID-19. It’s something beyond the Census Bureau’s control,” said Kathleen Styles, the Census Bureau’s chief of Decennial Communications and Stakeholder Relations.

Among other changes, purportedly brought on during the pandemic, is that data is no longer being released to states on a flow basis. Redistricting data will now come to states all at once.

For some states, that data will come after their legal deadline to redraw districts. Lawmakers there will have to find a workaround. For everyone, the window for court challenges to the maps will be significantly compressed.

Still, if bureaucrats everywhere can shake themselves out of the paralysis that comes from being asked to be flexible, and perhaps turn away from the manner in which things have always been done, the time crunch should be more a hiccup than a major problem.

Perhaps predicting the fit thrown by some officials, Chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee Eric Holder, said the new deadline should not be “a pretext to hold 2022 elections on old maps” for political gain, or to draw maps without much public input.

A bipartisan group of senators has already introduced legislation to extend the deadline for turning in redistricting data to Sept. 30. For the most part, the effects of such a delay will be felt in the runup to 2022 primary elections. For those used to operating under real world deadlines in the private sector, that probably seems like plenty of time, particularly given the technology that is available to both crunch numbers and communicate with residents.

We can’t do anything about the havoc wrought on the census by COVID-19. That is in the past. But we can adjust our expectations for the speed with which we use the data it provided. State officials must plan now to work as efficiently and fairly as possible to get the job done.


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