Connecticut is one of 15 states certain to miss constitutional deadlines for drawing new legislative districts unless the U.S. Census Bureau reconsiders a four-month delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Conference of State Legislatures said Tuesday.
The census intends to delay the release of census data necessary for apportionment from Dec 31, 2020 to April 30, 2021, guaranteeing that Connecticut lawmakers would miss their deadline of April 1 to vote on new legislative maps.
“NCSL understands the gravity of the COVID-19 crisis, and that delays are inevitable,” Tim Storey, the group’s director, wrote in a letter to the census director, Steven Dillingham. “Even so, we ask if a full 4-month extension on data release is necessary when the bureau is giving itself only a three-month extension for the data-gathering phase?”
Storey suggested that the bureau consider a triage approach — getting the necessary data to the states with the shortest deadlines first.
The states adjust their legislative maps after every decennial census to ensure that districts have the same number of people.
The April 1 deadline is the first of several in the Connecticut Constitution. If two-thirds of the legislature cannot agree on new maps by then, an eight-person bipartisan commission will be appointed by the leaders of the four legislative caucuses. The commission has until July to agree on a plan by a three-fourths vote. If they fail, a ninth member is appointed and they then face another deadline in October.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who is overseeing Connecticut’s efforts to produce a complete count in the 2020 Census, said she will be seeking the support of legislative leaders to ask the congressional delegation to shorten the delay, which the Census Bureau hopes to include in the next COVID-19 stimulus bill.
“Given our deadline in the constitution, we need that data sooner,” she said.
Connecticut currently is leading the northeast with a self-response rate of 63.8% as of Tuesday. The goal is to reach at least 69.5% before Aug. 11, when census takers now are scheduled to begin door-to-door interviews. Before COVID, the start date was May 13.
The NCSL also asked the Census Bureau on Tuesday to open talks with the states on its plans to maintain the privacy of census data. The NCSL fears that “noise” injected into the data to obscure block-by-block data will lead to an undercount.
At issue is “differential privacy,” a method used to obscure some data.“
The U.S. Constitution requires an “actual Enumeration” of all the people living in the U.S. every 10 years, but the Census Bureau also is required to keep personally identifiable information confidential for 72 years.
Maintaining privacy is difficult at the level of census blocks, the smallest geographic unit used by the census.
Here is how the NCSL explains the problem:
“Consider a census block with just 20 people in it, including one Filipino American. Without any disclosure avoidance effort, it might be possible to figure out the identity of that individual. With data swapping, the Filipino American’s data might be swapped with that of an Anglo American from a nearby census block—a census block where other Filipino Americans reside. The details for the person would be aggregated with others, and therefore not identifiable, and yet the total population in both census blocks would remain accurate.”
Final decisions about the mathematical model used for differential privacy have yet to be made.