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Census data delay puts redistricting on hold, could impact candidates

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

A delay in U.S. Census Bureau data to states until this fall could mean an odd situation for elected officials and those who wish to unseat them in 2022.

State campaign finance law allows candidates to start fundraising in late May of this year. But the required redrawing of State House and Congressional districts based on the new Census data now won’t be complete likely until late in the year.

“There could be a scenario where people start raising money for districts they don’t live in,” Secretary of State John Merrill told Alabama Daily News on Monday.

The Census Bureau late last week said states won’t be getting their new population data until Sept. 30. It cited COVID-19 related delays for altering the original March 31 date.

In Alabama, candidates for state office can start raising funds one calendar year prior to a primary. That means they can start filling their coffers on May 24 of this year for the May 24, 2022 primary.

But a few lawmakers are now suggesting a change in those dates. Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, and Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, both of whom chair the reapportionment committees in their respective chambers, told Alabama Daily News on Monday they plan to file legislation to move the 2022 primary and runoff dates further into the year.

“The purpose is to give us a little more time to get this job done,” McClendon said.

He said the legislation would have to be coordinated with the Alabama Secretary of State, who could advise on the latest-date possible “to give us a little bit more working room.”

McClendon said he’d like to file the bill when lawmakers return to Montgomery next week.

If approved, that change would delay when candidates could start raising money. 

“I just want to move it as far as I can,” McClendon said about the primary and runoffs. “We’ll know in a few days what that exact date we could do it and do it properly.” 

Reapportionment, last done in 2012, is a months-long process.

“We’ve got to buy some time,” Pringle said. “… We don’t even know if we’re going to get preliminary numbers that will tell us if we’re going to get six or seven congressional seats and kind of give us a little bit of working information so that we could actually hold public hearings and sit down with members and say, it looks like your districts going to be overpopulated or your districts can’t be underpopulated, where would you like to lose where would you like to gain? … But it’s looking more and more like we’re not gonna get any numbers we can work with until the end of September.”

Last Month, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said he expected a special session on redistricting this summer. But that was before the delay news.

“We’re still optimistic this fall we’ll be able to have a special session,” McCutcheon said late last week. “Late summer or early fall, start getting lines drawn because we’re fixing to go into an election.”

It is the state parties that set the qualifying deadlines. Normally, they are several months out from an election, but the redistricting issue could tighten that this year.

Outgoing ALGOP Chairman Terry Lathan said the Republican Party’s qualifying dates shouldn’t be a problem if the Legislature changes the law.

“Parties choose their opening of qualifying days in line with the state laws,” Lathan told ADN in a statement. The ALGOP qualifying will most likely begin in January 2022.”

A request for comment about qualifying dates from the Alabama Democratic Party was not returned.

If a candidate finds his or her sought district is redrawn away from them, Merrill said they could move or put their campaign resources toward another race.

“They have some options,” he said.

Pringle is clearly frustrated by the delay and timeline.

“Here’s the short answer: It’s a mess,” he said. “Here’s the long answer: It’s a terrible mess.” 

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