Census data may be too late; Warner worried tally may not arrive in time for 2022 preparations

(Bluefield Daily Telegraph file photo) West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner is concerned the official results of the U.S. 2020 Census tally, which have been delayed, may not arrive in time for the state to be prepared for the 2022 elections.

The state has already been informed that, because of a 3.8 percent population loss, the number of Congressional representatives will be cut from three to two and the state’s Electoral College vote total in the 2024 presidential election will drop from five to four.

“The continued delays in releasing Census data is creating a serious problem for many states like West Virginia,” he said in an announcement last week. “Delay after delay will make it difficult for the legislature to complete redistricting in time to comply with constitutional deadlines relating to the 2022 election cycle.”

Members of the state Legislature must consider and approve redistricting for House and Senate seats.

Warner said the Census Bureau missed its deadline of early spring and now projects the data won’t be available until August at the earliest.

Because of the delay, several states have been forced to sue the Census Bureau, he said, seeking permission to violate deadlines in their own state constitutions or laws. Other states are looking to other data sources, including third-party groups or interim Census data, but Warner said the West Virginia Constitution requires official Census data to be used for the redistricting process.

The significant delay by the Census also risks downstream effects on state and local governments, voters and candidates, he added.

“The Legislature and counties are constitutionally dependent upon the data for redrawing the state’s voting districts before the upcoming candidate filing period in January 2022. As a result, voters’ polling locations and ballot styles may change.”

Warner said candidates for some seats, such as the House of Delegates, must live in their district for at least one year before they are elected. However, without knowing the new district boundaries, it may be impossible for some to know whether they’re eligible before the deadline passes.

“What is most frustrating is that the Census Bureau has all of the data,” he said. “We know this because ... we received formal notice that the state has lost a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Warner said the correct numbers should already be available.

“The population increases in other states continue to show their effects here in West Virginia,” he said. “But if the Census Bureau has sufficient data to determine that we’re going to lose a Congressional seat, they should be able to release that data to the states to avoid legal challenges and other delays. With delays that will affect our nation’s elections, the Census Bureau becomes the newest federal entity contributing to decreased confidence in our elections.”

— Email: cboothe@bdtonline.com

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