Effects of the 2020 Census on 2021 State Legislative Elections

BallotReady has begun tracking how all 50 states and DC will be affected by the 2020 census in terms of congressional reapportionment and federal and state level redistricting. There are only two states, Virginia and New Jersey, that are holding state legislative elections that will be affected by the census in the current year. 

Under normal circumstances, both states would prepare new state legislative maps ahead of their primary elections in the year following the census (2021). However, the US Census Bureau has announced that due to COVID related delays they will not be releasing the data needed for redistricting until September, more than 5 months later than the normal March 31 deadline. In the paragraphs below, we detail how we anticipating redistricting will affect Virginia and New Jersey, as well as other states with municipal elections.

Virginia's 2021 state legislative primary election will most likely be held on June 8, using the current district boundaries. In the year following the census, the Virginia state legislature is required to set the date of the primary election to allow time for redistricting prior to the primary election. Because of the Census Bureau's delays, this will almost certainly be impossible. We expect Virginia to follow a precedent from 1981, when new state legislative maps were not ready in time for the election because they were struck down in federal court. None of this has been confirmed, and we will be tracking the situation for any official announcements.

BallotReady expects the most likely result will be that this year's elections will be held for a partial 1-year term, using the current boundaries. A new set of elections will be held in 2022 to fill the remaining year of the term, this time using the new boundaries. A third set of elections will be held in 2023, again using the new boundaries, this time for a full 2-year term.

New Jersey's election plan is more straightforward due to a constitutional amendment that was approved by voters in November, 2020. "Public Question 3" stipulated that if New Jersey receives federal census data after February 15, 2021, then the state redistricting process will be postponed until after the November 2, 2021 election. The state's plan is to hold their 2021 state legislative primary election at the normal time on June 8, using the current district boundaries for a full 2-year term. The first election using the new boundaries will be the 2023 state legislative election.

Looking ahead to the 2022 elections, there are many other states with constitutional or statutory deadlines for redistricting that will be impacted by the Census Bureau's delays, while other states have no official deadlines other than that it must be completed prior to the 2022 primary elections. Each state is following their own process for altering deadlines, whether through new legislation or appealing to their state courts. It is unlikely that there will be much new information available about how states are approaching redistricting until the Census Bureau releases the full census data in the summer or early fall, but BallotReady will be communicating how this will affect election dates or filing deadlines on our forthcoming 2022 elections calendar.

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