By Wendy Underhill
The latest hot topic in the redistricting world is how states can get this decade’s redistricting done on time, given a six-month delay in the release of the 2020 census data.
States eagerly await that data, but once it arrives, map-drawing might still be a ways down the road.
At a joint hearing of the Pennsylvania Senate and House State Committees, I learned that even after the census data is released at the end of September, the Pennsylvania State Data Center needs four to six week to prepare the data. Only after that preparatory work is done can map-drawing begin.
I was curious if that timeframe is normal—and I learned that it is indeed. For instance, in California, the Statewide Database needs about a month after the census data arrives before map-drawers can get busy. Part of what California is doing during that month is reallocating incarcerated people from the prison address to their previous addresses; eight other states will be doing so this year as well.
But all states have work to do, regardless of whether they reallocate prisoners. Indiana, for example, will need roughly two weeks to process the data, import it into the redistricting software and then test the redistricting system before they will be ready to draw maps.
Of course, that begs the question: What’s in a redistricting system? Most states have a database that combines census data with geographic information and with election results going back several election cycles. There’s no reason to not have the election data and geographic information imported now, since past election results are known and the Census Bureau has released all the geographic products needed by states. Some states may meld in other data sets as well.
This year’s redistricting time crunch means every state is looking for ways to speed up every step of the process. Some tasks can be handled ahead of time, such as importing available data, but many preliminary, non-mapping steps are still dependent upon the delayed census data.
States, it seems, will be looking to their data experts to turn up the heat, speed up the action, and prep the data in record speed.
Wendy Underhill is the director of NCSL's Elections and Redistricting Program.