Ohio Secretary of State: US Census delay means trouble ahead

Data from last year’s US Census is overdue and already the delay is threatening to push back Ohio’s election timetable for 2022. While the Primary Election on May 3, 2022 may appear to be a long way off, election authorities say the calendar for the remainder of 2021 is filled with various deadlines for next year’s election.

The census data was to be the basis for reconfiguring Ohio’s Congressional and Legislative district maps, with the process starting in April and May. Instead, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said the data is currently not going to be available from the census until September 30.

“To me, that is egregious. That’s why I asked the Attorney General to file a lawsuit against the Census Bureau and that’s something he’s pursuing. There’s no good excuse for taking that long. Taking that long is inexcusable,” LaRose said.

The Bureau’s reasoning, said LaRose, was that delays were caused by data collection problems in the field during COVID shutdowns.

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Voting advocates, including Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio, have raised the possibility of moving back the Ohio 2022 Primary Election from May to June to give the state some extra time.

“We are in a corner and we need to come together and make some good decisions,” Turcer said.

She said after the data comes in from the census, state lawmakers will re-draw the boundaries of the Congressional and Legislative districts.

If they cannot agree on a new map with bi-partisan support, the task goes to a newly created state panel. If that group cannot agree on the shape of new districts then the job returns once again to the Legislature. The process will be the first use of a new system designated in constitutional amendments approved by voters in 2015 and 1028. The starting point for the entire process is the arrival of census data that details shifting population patterns in the state. The shape and size of districts depends heavily on census figures. Also, district makeup must meet federal and state guidelines.

Turcer and other advocates are urging leaders in the Ohio General Assembly to plan ahead now to avoid the kind of mayhem caused last March when the Primary Election was cancelled with less than a 12 hour notice at the beginning of the COVID crisis.

“Making sure that voter information is accurate and voter files that the board of elections are creating is really essential,” Turcer said.