Countout: Census Delay May Affect Redistricting

This year's census is supposed to lead to next year's Texas Legislature drawing new electoral maps for the next decade. But the coronavirus pandemic has thrown a major wrench into those plans, casting new doubts on the always-thorny process of Texas redistricting. This week, the Trump administration requested a four-month delay in the 2020 Census due to difficulties raised by the Covid-19 pandemic. If that happens, the census data normally delivered to states in the spring may not arrive until next summer, after the Texas Legislature has adjourned.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) has served on the Legislature's redistricting committee. "The way it's supposed to work is that redistricting is supposed to be done in the regular session, not in a special session," he tells KTRH. "But even in normal times, major states like Texas usually get the (census) data a couple months earlier, so we really don't know what's going to happen."

If the census data is delayed, the governor could call a special session of the Legislature to draw the new electoral maps. State law also allows for the five-member Legislative Redistricting Board to draw the maps if it fails to happen during the regular session. "For now, this is a request by the Census hasn't been approved by Congress," says Bettencourt. "Even if it was approved, larger states get their data early, so we just don't know yet."

Regardless of what happens at the federal level, Bettencourt believes Texas will get the job done. "The redistricting committees already operating will be there," he says. "And I know the chairman is absolutely committed to having public hearings, even if they have to be done virtually...because we're going to have a transparent process no matter what."

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