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Colorado's congressional districts. (Handout)

The U.S. Census Bureau is warning states that it may not provide the population data they need to redraw congressional and legislative districts until Sept. 30, more than 180 days late and after a deadline enshrined in the Colorado Constitution by which the new political maps must be drawn. 

The announcement on Friday is a worst-case scenario for Colorado’s new independent redistricting commissions. State officials were already expecting the data to be late, but thought it might arrive by summer. 

The Census Bureau says it could have the data ready sooner, but nonpartisan staff at the Colorado legislature tasked with overseeing the redistricting process are not optimistic.

Colorado’s congressional and legislative redistricting commissions, which are still in the process of being selected, must draw new maps by Sept. 1 and Sept. 15 respectively. If the population data comes in later and no remedy is found, the commissions will be unable to meet the deadlines and nonpartisan legislative staff will take the reins.

The deadlines were set when voters passed Amendments Y and Z in 2018. The amendments were placed on the ballot that year by a unanimous vote of the legislature following a much-heralded, bipartisan agreement aimed at removing partisan politics from the redistricting process. 

The population data from the Census Bureau was supposed to be in by March 31 — at the latest — giving the commissions months to draw the new maps. Nonpartisan legislative staff in Colorado think they may be able to get the work done in two months, but it won’t matter if the data arrives after the due dates.

“This will be one of the first things for the commissions to tackle once they convene,” said Jessika Shipley, a nonpartisan staffer leading the redistricting effort. “We’re going to try to do all of our research in the coming weeks to give them as much information as possible so they are well informed and can make a plan to go forward.” 

State lawmakers could draft a bill seeking to extend the deadlines, but they technically are unable to change the state Constitution without a vote of the people. In order for the bill to go into effect, they would have to get approval from the Colorado Supreme Court because of the extenuating circumstances.

Any delay in redrawing legislative and congressional districts in Colorado could dramatically affect the 2022 election cycle. Other states are similarly scrambling to respond to the late data.
The Census Bureau delays stem from slowdowns related to COVID-19, the Trump administration’s failed efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census and data anomalies.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....