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Census Bureau: Apportionment data not expected until April

The pandemic, natural disasters and Trump administration decisions continue to delay delivery of state population numbers

The pandemic delayed census operations for months last year.
The pandemic delayed census operations for months last year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Census Bureau does not expect to deliver apportionment results until the end of April, an agency official told state legislators during a conference Wednesday. 

Kathleen Styles, the agency’s head of decennial communications and stakeholder relations, told the National Conference of State Legislatures that census officials are still tabulating results from the 2020 enumeration — weeding out duplicate responses and finding people who did not respond on their own. In the best-case scenario, she said, states should not expect data used to divvy up House seats until the end of March, at the very earliest.

“The worst thing that we could do would be delivering data that had question marks with it. We need to give you the best data that we can,” Styles said.

Last year, Census staff identified problems with close to 1 million records that could result in the over- or undercounting of thousands of people. Styles said those anomalies were not unusual compared to past decennial counts but still take time to fix.

The delay in delivering apportionment figures would line up with the Census Bureau’s original request last year for a statutory deadline extension following numerous delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. Census officials recently told a federal judge the data could not be delivered before the beginning of March. 

The agency missed its Dec. 31 deadline for the first time amid the pandemic, natural disasters and various decisions by the Trump administration that experts said harmed the process.

The Census Bureau originally requested a 120-day deadline extension after months of operational delays. The Trump administration later abandoned that effort amid a push to exclude undocumented immigrants from apportionment.

That meant ending the count early, in mid-October, and trying to finalize the figures before the end of the year. The agency then ran into hundreds of thousands of errors, resulting in more delays.

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden reversed the effort to exclude undocumented immigrants from apportionment, but he has not made a definitive statement asking Congress to extend the deadline. Styles said the administration is paying attention to efforts like those from Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and others who have sought to extend the statutory deadline. 

On Tuesday, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, Biden’s Commerce secretary nominee, pledged to give the Census Bureau as much time as it needs to finalize the results before delivering them to Congress.

“I believe that we need to take the politics out of the census, and we need to rely on the experts,” she said. “If they need more time, I’m open to that.”

Census results are also used to draw legislative maps and guide more than $1.5 trillion in federal spending annually.

Styles said the delivery of redistricting data has not been determined. Census officials did not respond to questions Wednesday about how the new timeline would affect the delivery of detailed data used for legislative redistricting. The agency’s first plan after the pandemic delay contemplated delivering redistricting data by July.

“You should not expect it before July 30,” Styles said.

New Jersey and Virginia have legislative elections this year that could be affected by the delay. New Jersey passed a constitutional amendment last year delaying its redistricting until 2023, but Virginia did not address the delay.

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