Redistricting data may be ready a month early, in old format

National

FILE – This March 19, 2020, file photo, shows a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident. Alabama on Wednesday became the second state to challenge the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision to delay by six months the release of data used for redrawing congressional and legislative districts, as it took aim at the accuracy of a privacy protection system that it alleged is holding up the process.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

States under pressure to redraw congressional and legislature districts but facing a delay in the release of the needed data may be able to get the numbers in an outdated format in August, more than a month earlier than the planned date for their official release, a U.S. Census Bureau official said Thursday.

The redistricting data will be available in mid- to late August, but they will be in an older data format that may be difficult for some states to work with since they require extra steps to be taken to make them usable, Al Fontenot, the bureau’s associate director of decennial census programs, told a Census Bureau advisory committee.

The Census Bureau recently announced that the deadline for releasing the redistricting data would be pushed back from the end of March, the date required by law, to the end of September because of delays caused by the pandemic.

The states of Ohio and Alabama promptly sued the statistical agency, saying the delay would undermine their ability to redraw districts. The Alabama lawsuit also challenged a new method being used by the Census Bureau for the first time for protecting participants’ privacy, which the state argues produces faulty numbers.

The availability of the redistricting data in the outdated format in August was first disclosed last week in a statement by a Census Bureau official in the Ohio lawsuit. The data officially released to the states in September will be on DVDs and flash drives with a software tool that makes it easy for browsing through the data, Fontenot told the Census Scientific Advisory Committee.

The data ready in the outdated format in August will need to be imported into a database. Relationships then will need to be established between files, and users will need to pull a subset of files to look at a specific geography.

“Given the difficulty in using data in this format, any state using this data would have to accept responsibility for how they process these files, whether correctly or incorrectly,” James Whitehorne, the bureau’s chief of the Census Redistricting and Voting Rights Data Office, said in the court filing in the Ohio lawsuit.

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