The coronavirus has disrupted almost every aspect of life in the U.S and it’s not stopping with 2020: It could also delay Virginia’s legislative elections in 2021.
The Census Bureau will likely need more time to finalize results of this year’s headcount, as stay-at-home orders due to coronavirus prevented the bureau from hiring and training census takers. The hiring process would have taken place in mid-March, just as lockdown measures were ramping up in just about every state.
Now the Bureau isn’t planning to start knocking on the doors of people who haven’t answered the survey until August, and has pushed back their deadline from the end of July to the end of October.
For states like Virginia, which have legislative elections scheduled for next year, the delay could throw the whole process out of whack. The once-a-decade count has a big impact on funding for states and municipalities, and it also plays a big role in drawing legislative districts. The way districts are drawn can decide which political party is in power, which laws are passed and whether or not communities of color have a voice where they live.
“There will not be enough time for redistricting, candidate filing, preparing for an election and running a general election. There simply won’t be time for it,” said Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida.
Moving the date of a primary election isn’t unheard of though. In 2011 Virginia moved its primary from June 14 to Aug. 23 to allow time for redistricting after receiving the census data. Virginia could see a similar delay in 2021 given that its primary is scheduled for the second Tuesday in June.
“If the data isn’t in until sometime in early to mid-July, it would be very, very difficult to get it done in time to even come close to meeting requirements for both the primary and a general election,” Virginia Senator George Barker said.
Virginians are also voting in November on a constitutional amendment that would create a bipartisan commission to draw the new districts in a fair way. If the amendment is approved, the commission would have 45 days after receiving the census results to submit new district maps to lawmakers.
Barker, who sponsored the amendment, said that it’s not certain if the 2021 primary could be delayed long enough for the commission to redraw the maps. If there isn’t enough time candidates will have to run their campaigns under current districts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.