A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by the state of Ohio that tried to get the U.S. Census Bureau to provide data used for drawing congressional and legislative districts ahead of its planned release.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Rose in Dayton, Ohio, rejected the state’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have forced the Census Bureau to release the redistricting data by March 31.
Ohio filed its lawsuit last month after the Census Bureau said the redistricting data wouldn’t be available until September, months after the redistricting deadlines for many states. The lawsuit said the delay will undermine Ohio’s process of redrawing districts, posing the first challenge to the bureau’s revised deadline on the redistricting data. Alabama also has filed a lawsuit over the changed deadline.
The bureau has since said the data will be available in an older format in August.
In dismissing the lawsuit, the judge said that there was nothing that could be done to fix Ohio’s redistricting quandary since it was impossible for the Census Bureau to meet the March 31 deadline. Bureau officials said last month that they needed more time because of operational delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In order to draw congressional districts, Ohio needs to know how many congressional seats it will get when the apportionment numbers are released and that data aren’t being released until next month, Rose said.
“So even if the relief Ohio seeks (redistricting data by March 31) was granted, Ohio would be no closer to drawing congressional districts on April 1,” the judge wrote.
A message seeking comment was left with Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.
The redistricting data includes counts of population by race, Hispanic origin, voting age and housing occupancy status at geographic levels as small as neighborhoods. The data are used for drawing voting districts for Congress and state legislatures. Unlike past decades when the data were released to states on a flow basis, the 2020 redistricting data will be made available to the states all at once, according to the Census Bureau.
The delay in releasing the redistricting data has sent states scrambling to come up with alternative plans because many will not get the data until after their legal deadlines for drawing new districts, requiring them to either rewrite laws or ask the courts to allow them a free pass because of the delay. Candidates may not know yet whether they will live in the district they want to run in by the filing deadline. In some cases, if fights over new maps drag into the new year, primary elections may have to be delayed.
Associated Press writer Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.