Thanks to reporting delays with 2020 U.S. Census data, the timeline for Virginia’s newly implemented redistricting process and the 2021 elections for all 100 House of Delegates seats could be impacted.
On Wednesday, a Census Bureau official said the redistricting data for states may not arrive until July 30th or afterward.
“We don’t have a final date yet,” Kathleen Styles, chief of decennial communications and stakeholder relations for the Census Bureau, said during a webinar with the National Conference of State Legislatures. “I would like to sort of plant a bug in your ear not to assume that you will be able to get redistricting data by July 30th.”
The statutory deadline for delivering redistricting data was March 30th.
According to Styles, external factors like the significant hurricane season, wildfires and air quality in certain western states, nationwide protests in the spring and multiple legal challenges on top of the coronavirus pandemic disrupted some of the bureau’s operational stages and led to the delay.
Virginia is the only state holding legislative elections in 2021 and the Commonwealth’s new redistricting commission will need to use the updated census data in order to fully complete its work before the November general elections for the House.
With data supposedly arriving several months late, the timeline for the commission is severely tightened.
However, Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax), one of the commission’s members, said Styles had been referring to when all states would receive the population data and that Virginia may be able to get it sooner given the circumstances.
“I think there is a very good chance that we will receive [the data] before that time, particularly as long as there is any chance that we could get it in time for redistricting,” Barker said in an interview with The Virginia Star on Friday.
The veteran lawmaker said that a person working with President Joe Biden’s transition team had reached out to him to get an understanding of what data Virginia needs for its redistricting process but has not been given any updates since and does not know when it will actually be delivered.
If the data does not arrive in time before the primary elections for the House, which were already pushed back to August from June because of redistricting, lawmakers could be forced to run on the old district lines for the 2021 legislative races, according to Barker.
In that scenario, two options would then be on the table for the state. Have delegates run again under new district maps in 2022 and then again in 2023, the regularly scheduled year for House elections, or let them serve two years based on the old lines until 2023, according to Barker.
Barker also mentioned that staff from the Virginia Department of Elections told him that as long as the primaries are done by August 24th, then the general elections will not be impacted and all the necessary steps beforehand like sending absentee ballots overseas will be completed on time.
The redistricting commission, consisting of eight current lawmakers and eight citizens, was formed after voters approved a constitutional amendment in the most recent election, taking the power of drawing Virginia’s legislative and congressional district maps away from the General Assembly.
Even though the updated data is needed to complete the work, Barker said there are still plenty of things the commission can do to jump start the process, such as educating members who may be unfamiliar with redistricting, and that this year does not require a significant number of adjustments to districts versus years past.
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