U.S. Census Bureau postpones release of apportionment report, redistricting data

Ballot Bulletin by Ballotpedia

On Jan. 27, Kathleen Styles, a U.S. Census Bureau official, announced that the bureau would deliver its final apportionment report by April 30. Styles also said the bureau hoped to release redistricting data after July 31. 

The U.S. census is conducted every 10 years and kickstarts the entire redistricting process. Under its original operational timeline, the census bureau was scheduled to deliver apportionment counts by Dec. 31, 2020, and redistricting data by March 31.

On June 16, 2020, in light of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, the census bureau proposed postponing these statutory deadlines. However, Congress did not act on this proposal. Subsequent litigation over a Trump administration executive order to exclude “aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status under the Immigration and Nationality Act” from the final apportionment counts resulted in further delays. 

The U.S. Census and congressional reapportionment 

Article I, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution requires that congressional representatives be apportioned to the states on the basis of population. There are 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Consequently, a state may gain seats in the House if its population grows or lose seats if its population decreases, relative to populations in other states. 

Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas are all expected to gain between one and three seats each. Meanwhile, Alabama, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia are expected to lose seats. These estimates are subject to change. 

Federal law requires that congressional and state legislative districts have equal populations (as nearly as practicable). In order to meet this requirement, redistricting authorities rely on the detailed data provided by the census bureau. 

What comes next? 

It remains to be seen how most states will respond to this postponement. The question is especially pressing for New Jersey and Virginia, both of which conduct state legislative elections this year. 

At least two states – California and New Jersey – have already provided for adjustments to their respective redistricting schedules.

  • California: On July 17, 2020, the California Supreme Court unanimously ordered that the state extend its constitutional and statutory deadlines for congressional and state legislative redistricting by at least four months. The court directed the California Citizens Redistricting Commission to release draft district plans by Nov. 1, 2021, and final district plans by Dec. 15, 2021. The original deadlines were July 1, 2021, and Aug. 15, 2021, respectively. The court provided for further extensions if the federal government does not transmit the necessary data by July 31, 2021. 
  • New Jersey: On Nov. 3, 2020, New Jersey voters approved Public Question 3, a constitutional amendment postponing state legislative redistricting until after the Nov. 2, 2021, election if the census bureau failed to deliver redistricting data by Feb. 15, 2021. As a result, the existing legislative district maps will remain in force until 2023. The amendment also provides for postponements in future redistricting cycles if the federal government fails to deliver census data by Feb. 15. 

New York City uses ranked-choice voting for the first time since 1945

On Feb. 2, New York City held a special election for City Council District 24 using ranked-choice voting. This is the city’s first use of ranked-choice voting under a 2019 charter amendment providing for its use in select municipal primary and special elections. 

New York City previously used ranked-choice voting in city council elections between 1937 and 1945. 

2019 charter amendment

On Nov. 5, 2019, New York City voters approved a charter amendment providing for the use of ranked-choice voting in municipal primary and special elections for the following offices:

  • Mayor
  • Public advocate
  • Comptroller
  • Borough president
  • City council

Voters approved the charter amendment 73.6% to 26.4%. Now, voters can rank up to five candidates for a given office in order of preference. A candidate who wins a majority of first-preference votes wins the election outright. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, raising the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process repeats until a candidate wins an outright majority. 

What comes next? 

The city will conduct its June 22 primaries for mayor, city council, public advocate, and comptroller using ranked-choice voting. Additionally, the city has two special ranked-choice voting elections scheduled this year: City Council District 31 on Feb. 23 and City Council Districts 11 and 15 on March 23.

In other electoral systems news … 

On March 2, St. Louis, Missouri, will use approval voting in its primaries for mayor, comptroller, president of the Board of Aldermen, and the Board of Aldermen. 

Under its approval voting system, approved via a ballot initiative on Nov. 3, 2020, St. Louis voters can vote for one or more candidates in the primaries for the aforementioned offices. The top two vote-getters in each race will advance to the April 6 general election. 

Legislation update: Redistricting, electoral systems, and primary systems bills 

Redistricting legislation: So far this year, we’ve tracked at least 60 redistricting-related bills up for consideration in state legislatures. 

Redistricting legislation in the United States, 2021 
Current as of Feb. 2, 2021

Electoral systems legislation: So far this year, we’ve tracked at least 83 bills dealing with electoral systems that are up for consideration in state legislatures. 

Electoral systems legislation in the United States, 2021 
Current as of Feb. 2, 2021

Primary systems legislation: So far this year, we’ve tracked at least five bills dealing with primary systems that are up for consideration in state legislatures. 

Primary systems legislation in the United States, 2021 
Current as of Feb. 2, 2021