Census delays could make the Virginia House hold elections in 2021, 2022 and 2023: ‘Still don’t have a final answer’

Virginia News

Voters leave a polling place on Election Day, in Richmond, Va., Tuesday Nov 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Despite approving the creation of a panel to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts, Virginians are likely to vote under the current maps for this year’s House of Delegates elections as census delays could force candidates to run three years in a row.

The coronavirus pandemic has hampered the U.S. Census Bureau’s data collecting efforts, pushing back the agency’s deadlines for delivering apportioning data to late April and redistricting data to the end of July.

“We are currently working on a schedule to see how soon we can provide it to you,” Kathleen Styles, the bureau’s chief of decennial communications and stakeholder relations, said Wednesday during a National Conference of State Legislatures webinar. “You should not expect it prior to July 30.”

Virginia’s new redistricting commission is required to submit plans for the redrawn districts to the General Assembly “no later than 45 days” after receiving data from the 2020 Census, according to the state’s Constitution.

With the state’s primaries set for early June, voters are expected to select candidates based on maps used during the 2019 elections.

“It’s not totally unexpected news,” Del. Marcus B. Simon (D-Fairfax), one of the members of the redistricting commission, said in an interview.

Districts used in 2019 were redrawn by a court-appointed expert and approved by the U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Virginia after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the maps created under the GOP-led state legislature in 2011 were racially gerrymandered.

Lawmakers in the General Assembly have been expressing their concerns of holding an election with the same maps, saying for months that the expected delays could compel state courts to order a special election in 2022 to have voters choose candidates from the redrawn districts.

With all 100 seats in the House up for grabs every two years, the census delays could bring elections in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

According to Styles, one option being discussed is providing data to states in a flow basis “with the states that needed their data earlier, receiving it earlier.” She later added, however, that to reduce the risk and improve the process, the bureau’s recommendation would be “one national delivery.”

While other members have floated the idea of possibly getting Virginia’s data earlier, Del. Simon conceded that would slow down the overall national process and said all options are being explored. He mentioned possibly approving legislation to push back the timeline and use redrawn maps in 2023 or asking state courts to rule on the issue.

“It’s not very clear yet, we still don’t have a final answer,” Simon told 8News.

Simon added that legislators are weighing the pros and cons of each scenario, acknowledging thoughts on whether a particular outcome could benefit one party this year and make the other call for a special session next year. Simon said with nobody at fault for the delays, he prefers “the lower cost” process and using the current maps this year and redrawn maps in 2023.

In November, voters in Virginia passed a constitutional amendment creating a bipartisan group to redraw the legislative boundaries following the 2020 Census. The referendum mandated that the 16-member group be made up of eight state legislators, four Democrats and four Republicans, and eight citizen members.

The state delegates named to the commission include Dels. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond), Les Adams (R-Pittsylvania), Margaret Ransone (R-Westmoreland), and Simon. There are four state senators on the panel: Sens. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover), George Barker (D-Fairfax) and Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg).

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