Census Bureau Could Delay Redistricting Data by Another 6 Months, Creating Trouble in Ohio

The Census Bureau's redistricting data could be delayed by another six months, creating possible trouble in Ohio, the Associated Press reported.

The Fair Lines America Foundations, a Republican advocacy group, sued the Census Bureau in a public records lawsuit for information about how the census count was conducted in group quarters.

Census Bureau Chief Scientist John Abowd said the Census Bureau is required to release additional records as part of the Fair Lines lawsuit but it will need as much as six months to recalibrate a new statistical tool to protect people's privacy so they can't be identified through the data.

However, delaying the release past August 16 could get the Bureau in trouble with a federal court in Ohio. Part of a settlement in Ohio's lawsuit says the Census Bureau promised to release the redistricting data no later than that date.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Census Bureau in Trouble With Ohio
The Census Bureau could face a six-month delay in releasing its redistricting data in trying to protect privacy in a lawsuit involving the state of Ohio. Close-up of hand holding a letter from the Census Bureau regarding the 2020 Census, San Ramon, California, April 24, 2020. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The redistricting data is set to be made public by the middle of next month. That could be postponed by as much as six additional months, however, if the statistical agency is ordered to release more records dealing with how it counted people living in what it refers to as "group quarters," Abowd said in a declaration.

The Bureau designates group quarters as dormitories, prisons, nursing homes and group homes.

The release of the redistricting data already was postponed by five months from its original March 31 deadline because of delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, sending states scrambling to revise redistricting deadlines. Two states, Ohio and Alabama, sued the Census Bureau in an unsuccessful effort to get it to release the data before August.

"The effect on the schedule for delivering redistricting data would likely be substantial," Abowd said of any potential order to disclose further group quarter records.

The Republican advocacy group, Fair Lines America Foundation, sued the Census Bureau in a public records lawsuit for information about how the census count was conducted in group quarters. The group says it's concerned about the accuracy of that count and wants to make sure anomalies didn't affect the state population figures used for divvying up congressional seats among the states.

The group facilities were among the most difficult places to count people during the 2020 census because the pandemic forced colleges to shutter dorms and send students home, and nursing homes and other facilities restricted access in an effort to protect vulnerable residents from the virus.

Census Redistricting Data Could Be Delayed Further
College students begin moving in for the fall semester at N.C. State University in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, July 31, 2020. By the end of the U.S. head count last year, the Census Bureau lacked data for almost a fifth of the nation's occupied college dorms, nursing homes and prisons, requiring the statistical agency to make eleventh-hour calls to facilities in an effort to collect resident information or use a last-resort statistical technique to fill in the gaps. Gerry Broome/Associated Press