Lawmakers frustrated over delay in Census redistricting data

Republican senators are expressing frustration that data used for redrawing congressional and legislative districts won’t be available until August at the earliest.

Posted: Mar 23, 2021 4:50 PM

Republican senators expressed frustration Tuesday that data used for redrawing congressional and legislative districts won't be available until August at the earliest, but the U.S. Census Bureau's acting director told them the schedule was driven by a goal of releasing complete and accurate numbers.

At a hearing of the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, Republican lawmakers told acting Census Bureau director Ron Jarmin that the delay was upending their states' redistricting plans.

The statistical agency recently said the redistricting data would be ready in an older format by August and in a more user-friendly format by September, months after the redistricting deadlines for many states. By law, the redistricting data is due by March 31, but the bureau said it needed the extra time because of delays caused by the pandemic.

“I hope you understand the negative consequences here," said U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, whose state sued the Census Bureau over the revised deadline. “This is really putting us back and causing tremendous problems."

U.S. Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, said the delay was upsetting redistricting plans states had already undertaken, “and that all has to be redone." The state of Alabama also has sued the Census Bureau in an effort to force it to release the redistricting data early.

The bureau is currently in the data processing phase of the 2020 census. Apportionment numbers that will decide how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets are scheduled to be released next month. The census figures also determine how $1.5 trillion in federal funding is distributed each year.

Under questioning, Jarmin said prioritizing some states like Ohio over other states in getting the redistricting data would actually cause a bigger delay. He also said hiring more staff wouldn't speed up the process since that would take staff experts away from processing the data so they could train the new hires.

“That sounds nonsensical to me,” Portman responded.

Besides the pandemic, the delay in the redistricting data was also caused by the previous administration's desire to get the apportionment numbers finished by a Dec. 31 deadline mandated by law, the census chief said.

“We crashed the schedule," Jarmin said. “That meant some of the work we would have started for the redistricting data was set aside for later. That has added some time."

Critics say the previous administration aimed for the Dec. 31 deadline so that then-President Donald Trump would still be in office when the apportionment numbers were completed and his administration could carry out a directive to exclude from apportionment figures people in the country illegally. President Joe Biden rescinded that directive as one of his first acts as president.

Tuesday's Senate hearing covered a wide range of topics, including questions from senators about political interference, cybersecurity and the budget for the 2020 census.

Under questioning, J. Christopher Mihm, an official at the watchdog Government Accountability Office, told senators that nonpartisan career staffers “were in the driver's seat" when it came to fundamental decisions at the bureau — not political appointees named by the Trump administration. The four Trump political appointees left the bureau before Biden took office in January. But Mihm recommended that the roles of future political appointees be given more clarity.

The bureau reported no security breaches with the 2020 census data. Even though the bureau used software employed by hackers for a large-scale penetration of U.S. government agencies, no data was compromised, Jarmin said.

The acting Census Bureau director also said the cost of executing the 2020 census would be under its $15.6 billion budget.

The hearing was preceded by the release of a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that provided a broad view of what worked and didn't work during the data collection phase of the 2020 census that ended in mid-October.

The report said a new automated system designed to create efficient routes for census takers as they knocked on the doors of homes that hadn’t responded often sent them instead on journeys that made no sense. The system called “the optimizer" also distributed cases unevenly among workers, according to interviews with census supervisors and managers.

Bureau officials told the watchdog agency that the automated system worked effectively and increased productivity, though they said they could have done a better job of explaining it during training.

Census takers also had difficulty entering large apartment or condo buildings to interview households since many building managers were working remotely during the pandemic.

The report also said the bureau spent $98.4 million on financial rewards to census takers for working additional hours or for traveling to other locations where the door-knocking was lagging.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 308111

Reported Deaths: 7122
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20826248
Hinds19910411
Harrison17510302
Rankin13334276
Jackson13118243
Madison9908210
Lee9871170
Jones8297160
Forrest7525147
Lauderdale7198237
Lowndes6272144
Lamar611084
Lafayette6039117
Washington5281133
Bolivar4772129
Oktibbeha455897
Panola4445103
Pearl River4428141
Warren4284118
Marshall4276100
Pontotoc416972
Monroe4061132
Union403975
Neshoba3994176
Lincoln3871109
Hancock372885
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329589
Tate322782
Pike3188104
Scott310872
Yazoo304468
Alcorn298065
Itawamba297177
Copiah293265
Coahoma289778
Simpson288284
Tippah284868
Prentiss275759
Marion266079
Leake261373
Wayne261341
Grenada255384
Covington254780
Adams246082
Newton245161
George238147
Winston225981
Tishomingo222267
Jasper219748
Attala213473
Chickasaw205057
Holmes186872
Clay182854
Stone179331
Clarke177076
Tallahatchie175540
Calhoun163531
Yalobusha159236
Smith158834
Walthall130643
Greene129433
Lawrence126423
Noxubee126233
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120926
Amite120141
Webster113532
Jefferson Davis105432
Tunica102725
Claiborne101330
Benton97325
Kemper95428
Humphreys94332
Franklin82123
Quitman78916
Choctaw73417
Wilkinson64928
Jefferson64828
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 520503

Reported Deaths: 10722
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson754091487
Mobile38938798
Madison33898495
Tuscaloosa25297443
Montgomery23992567
Shelby23124239
Baldwin20652300
Lee15541165
Calhoun14301311
Morgan14145270
Etowah13665346
Marshall11967219
Houston10381278
Elmore10001200
Limestone9822147
Cullman9481188
St. Clair9435234
Lauderdale9223227
DeKalb8748181
Talladega8071171
Walker7100275
Jackson6762110
Autauga6734103
Blount6497135
Colbert6210130
Coffee5404112
Dale4766110
Russell429038
Franklin419982
Chilton4087109
Covington4056114
Tallapoosa3898146
Escambia388574
Dallas3531149
Chambers3503122
Clarke346560
Marion3066100
Pike305876
Lawrence295395
Winston272572
Bibb256459
Marengo248661
Geneva245875
Pickens233059
Barbour225255
Hale218775
Butler212566
Fayette209260
Henry187744
Cherokee182144
Randolph176941
Monroe172040
Washington164238
Macon154848
Clay149555
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146241
Lamar139334
Lowndes136553
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109128
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99328
Greene91034
Choctaw58724
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