ORLANDO, Fla. – The U.S. Census Bureau sped up the timetable for crunching 2020 census numbers on Friday after an earlier request for an extension stalled in the Senate and as pressure mounts to turn in data used to determine congressional districts by year's end, when President Donald Trump is still in office.
On its website Friday, the bureau listed the deadline for processing data used to apportion the districts as Dec. 31. As recently as Thursday, it had listed a time frame of Oct. 31, 2020 to April 30, 2021.
Census experts and civil rights activists worry the sped-up deadline could affect the thoroughness of the count, which determines how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is distributed and how many congressional districts each state gets.
“The rapidly changing census schedule is not only alarming; I fear that it will undermine confidence in the Census Bureau and call into question the thoroughness of remaining counting operations and quality of data processing,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former congressional aide who now is a census consultant for foundations and philanthropic groups.
Facing delays caused by the pandemic, the Census Bureau had asked Congress in the spring to extend the deadline for turning in apportionment data from Dec. 31, 2020, to April 30, 2021. As recently as this month, top Census Bureau officials said it would be impossible to meet the end-of-the-year deadline, and that the bureau expected bipartisan support for the request.
The request passed the Democratic-controlled House as part of coronavirus-relief legislation but is now stalled in the Senate. The chamber's inaction coincides with a memorandum Trump issued last week to try to exclude people living in the U.S. illegally from being part of the process for redrawing congressional districts.
Civil rights groups, states, cities and individuals have filed at least a half-dozen lawsuits challenging the memorandum as unconstitutional and an attempt to limit the power of Latinos and immigrants of color. The most recent lawsuit was filed Friday in federal court in Maryland by residents of California, Florida, Nevada, New York and Texas. The suit claims that the order would dilute their voting power and cause their communities to get less federal funding.
The request to Congress also asked that the deadline for turning in data used for drawing legislative and local districts be extended from March 30, 2021, to July 31, 2021. The Census Bureau website said Friday that the deadline is the end of March.