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Census Data Fight Complicates Redrawing Of Ohio's Congressional Map

David Niven, a professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati holds a map demonstrating a gerrymandered Ohio district, Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Cincinnati.
John Minchillo
/
Associated Press
David Niven, a professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati holds a map demonstrating a gerrymandered Ohio district, Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Cincinnati.

The League of Women Voters of Ohio is opposing a lawsuit filed by Ohio's Attorney General against the decision to hold back key Census data until September 30 because of the pandemic and concerns about accuracy. 

However, the clock is already ticking on starting the process to draw new maps for Ohio’s state House and Senate districts, and for the U.S. Congress. 

This spring, Ohio will know whether it keeps all 16 members of Congress, or loses one seat because of population changes.

“If we have 15, we can't use the old maps, even if we want to, because they're based on 16 districts," said Common Cause Ohio’s Catherine Turcer, who helped pass the constitutional amendments that changed the way Ohio draws its maps.

The amendment passed in 2018 sets up a series of deadlines for state lawmakers to approve Congressional maps, with the final deadline being November 30. Another amendment passed in 2015 requires state lawmakers’ districts done by September 1, although if they can't get support from the minority party, the deadline is September 15.

However, the U.S. Census Bureau recently pushed back the timeline for providing redistricting data to states until September, in order to complete quality checks that were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and changes from the Trump administration.

So Turcer sees two options: ask the Supreme Court to extend the state's deadlines or move next year’s May 3 primary. She suspects both might need to happen.

"To create a timeline where the mapmaking is actually doable, we need two things," Turcer says. "We need to make sure that there's enough time for mapmaking, and we don't want them to feel the pressure of, 'Oh, my gosh, we have to rush because we have this time.' So it makes sense, actually, to consider doing both. What doesn't make sense is to just what doesn't make sense is to assume that the census can just turn over data.”

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sued the U.S. Census Bureau to force Census data to be released by March 31, saying in a statement, "Laws cannot be arbitrarily changed by administrative fiat." Ohio is the first state in the country to sue over the delayed redistricting data.

But some cities, counties and civil rights groups, now including the League of Women Voters of Ohio, say they have a deal they have with the Biden administration not to release data before April 16.