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Warner: U.S. Census delay will be a challenge for 2022 elections

CHARLESTON — A delay in the release of the 2020 U.S. Census numbers will affect the administration of elections in 2022, the West Virginia Secretary of State said.

The Census Bureau recently extended the release dates to Sept. 30 from the original deadline of March 31 to April 30, Secretary of State Mac Warner said. The population counts will determine election districts, he said.

“West Virginia, like many states, requires the Legislature to use the most-recent Census data to implement redistricting, as many ramifications flow from how districts are drawn,” he said in a letter Tuesday to President Joe Biden. “But unlike most states, West Virginia anticipates losing one of our three U.S. House of Representatives positions. We are in a tough situation where delay will cause undue hardship on our election officials, candidates and citizens at large.”

Census data also is used for other purposes besides redistricting. Among others, population determines how federal money is allocated.

The release of the population data will be delayed six months to Sept. 30 because of the effect of the pandemic on operations, the Census Bureau said. The information will be released all at once, the bureau said.

“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,” the bureau said.

Besides congressional districts, population is used for redistricting the state Senate and House of Delegates districts.

A September release leaves little time to meet state constitutional requirements, according to House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay.

The Legislature is mandated by the Constitution to have redistricting completed by early November 2021 to have districts in place a year prior to the November 2022 general election, Hanshaw said. The U.S. Census Bureau in a traditional year would have the data ready by April and a Redistricting Committee would be named after the regular session to meet and discuss the process throughout the summer, he said.

“The census numbers are behind this year, through no fault of any states. Some of that delay we understand to be COVID-related and some of it is because of a change in administration,” Hanshaw said. “We’ve been told the numbers must be provided to us by Sept. 30, which doesn’t give us much time at all to do the work of redistricting, so we do have concerns here at the House of Delegates, but we will make any necessary adjustments to complete the process as necessary.”

House Bill 4002, passed in 2018, will make the multi-delegate districts in West Virginia single-delegate districts based on the 2020 Census. A hundred single-delegate districts will be created.

Twenty of the 67 House districts are multi-delegate. District 10 in Wood County is a multi-delegate district with three seats.

“Further delay in the delivery of Census data will hinder the Wet Virginia Legislature’s ability to complete the redistrict prior to state-specific deadlines to administer the 2022 federal election,” Warner said. “Delay may force West Virginia and other states to violate laws dictating the redistricting process and deadlines. In this time when confidence in elections is paramount, a delay may well generate confusion for candidates and voters alike.”

States have had access to prototype geographic support products and data tabulations from the 2018 Census Test since 2019 to begin to design redistricting systems and minimize the impact of schedule delays, the bureau said. The Census Bureau also completed the release of all states’ 2020 Census geographic products needed for redistricting, the bureau said.

“This will enable states to redistrict promptly upon receipt of their 2020 Census tabulation data,” the bureau said.

Jess Mancini can be reached at jmancini@newsandsentinel.com.

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