2020 Census

FILE - This Sunday, April 5, 2020, file photo shows an envelope containing a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident in Detroit. On Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the once-a-decade head count of every U.S. resident from continuing through the end of October.

A panel of lawmakers gave unanimous approval to a bill that aims to fix the state redistricting commissions’ census data delay problems, by deeming survey data appropriate to use for the preliminary maps, instead of waiting for the U.S. Census Bureau’s official decennial census data.

The state’s redistricting commissions would normally have had the decennial census data by this point in the redistricting process, but the global coronavirus pandemic caused problems, leading to a months-long delay. The census bureau has told states that official decennial census data should be available by August or September.

But that won’t allow enough time for the state’s new redistricting commission process to play out. According to amendments Y and Z, passed overwhelmingly by the state’s voters in the 2018 election and which amend the state’s constitution, the citizen redistricting commissions are required to draft maps, then tour the state with them, gathering feedback and input from the public, which is to be used to help craft and adopt final maps. The commissions are supposed to have maps approved by the state Supreme Court by November.

The delayed data and constitutional deadlines just won’t work together, and something needs to be changed, a lawyer and staff working for the commission have said.

SB247, passed Tuesday by the Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee, would put into law that the commissions can use data from the 2019 American Community Survey, a five-year compilation of surveys of 2.7% of the population, to draft preliminary maps that would be used for the public tour, before later using official decennial census data to make final maps.

Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg, a prime sponsor of the bill, said during the committee hearing that he and the other backers of the bill want to avoid lawsuits that could result from waiting for the official decennial census data, and not meeting the constitutional deadlines.

The deadlines ensure that elections officials have enough time to incorporate new maps into their election administration operations, Fenberg said, which normally takes several months. Not hitting the deadlines, he said, could mean lawsuits between county recorders, the secretary of state and the commission.

The bill was amended to specify that the maps drafted with decennial census data would be the commissions’ “draft” maps and that the maps made with preliminary data would be only “preliminary,” in order to align with the language of the constitution. It was also amended to give the commissions 10 days, instead of 5, to begin their mapping process, once the preliminary data is ready.

Amanda Gonzalez, the executive director of Colorado Common Cause, a nonprofit organization that advocates for democracy and political rights, warned about what could result from the changes in the bill.

First, American Community Survey data authorized for preliminary maps in the bill is not intended to be used for redistricting, she said, and the decennial census data has in the past been significantly different from the American Community Survey results, meaning the official decennial census data could require significant changes to the maps.

At the same time, she said, the constitution requires that the public is able to provide meaningful input on the maps that are drafted with final data, not preliminary survey data.

She urged an amendment to the bill that would include language requiring for meaningful public input on the maps using decennial census data.

Nobody from the redistricting commissions testified during the hearing.

The bill passed in committee 5-0, and will be sent next to Senate Appropriations.

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