Missed census deadline delays redistricting decisions

FILE - In this July 26, 2017, file photo, a lawmaker studies a district map during a joint select committee meeting on redistricting in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

RALEIGH — A Friday statement from the U.S. Census Bureau said states would not receive redistricting data until Sept. 30, 2021, a six-month delay from the original March 31, 2021 deadline.

“If this were a typical decade, we would be on the verge of delivering the first round of redistricting data from the 2020 Census. Our original plan was to deliver the data in state groupings starting Feb. 18, 2021 and finishing by March 31, 2021. However, COVID-19 delayed census operations significantly,” the Census Bureau said.

Additionally, the Bureau announced it would deliver data to states all at once.

“This change has been made because of COVID-19-related shifts in data collection and in the data processing schedule and it enables the Census Bureau to deliver complete and accurate redistricting data in a more timely fashion overall for the states.”

In the past 10 years North Carolina has gone through three separate redistricting processes, spurred by a litany of lawsuits filed by Democratic and left-leaning groups in state and federal courts.

The 2019 redistricting session was live streamed from start to finish, with legislators unable to use political data in the decision-making process.

In January, Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) told North State Journal he expected the 2021 redistricting session to emulate many of that session’s aspects.

“We will start with the intention of trying to replicate as much as possible the inclusiveness we saw in 2019,” said Berger. “We have to remember one of the reasons we were able to do that was this ready group of maps that been drawn and acknowledged were fair, and we randomly chose one of those from the districts that had to be redrawn. I don’t know that we will have that for a starting point, but the idea that we open up the process and discussion is something that is our intent.”

Even then, Berger said redistricting “may be one of those things we not do until late summer, early fall.”

Some potential candidates have already stated their intent to look at running for new offices.

State Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake) established a congressional campaign committee despite both of Wake County’s representatives, David Price and Deborah Ross, being Democrats.

Elsewhere, state Rep. Charles Graham, a Robeson County Democrat, said on Feb. 15 he was running for the 9th District seat currently held by Republican Dan Bishop.

Republicans in the state have remained quiet about moves, with names such as former Gov. Pat McCrory still considering the open U.S. Senate primary.

Local elections, which take place in many of the state’s largest cities, could also face delays. One report said a bill could be filed to delay those elections until 2022, but no final decisions have been made.

The Bureau said its first focus could remain on its constitutional obligation to deliver state population counts for the Electoral College, which it must have by April 30, 2021.