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Citing Census data delay, lawmakers seek to move 2022 elections

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

A bill expected to be filed in the Alabama Legislature this week proposes to delay by seven weeks the 2022 primary and runoff election dates in order to give the Legislature more time to finalize new Congressional and State House district lines.

Alabama Daily News reported last week that some state officials were concerned that a delay in U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2020 headcount, now expected to be released in late September, won’t give lawmakers adequate time for the reapportionment process. Meanwhile, prospective 2022 State House candidates can start raising money in May of this year, one calendar year before the 2022 primary but long before district lines will be finalized.

“It’s not just the redistricting, it’s the candidates who need to find out where their districts are and have a chance to go visit their districts,” Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, said Monday. “And particularly with congressional districts. If we end up going to six congressional districts instead of seven, then every congressional district will be dramatically changed from what it has been historically, and this will give them the opportunity to go meet all the new people.”

McClendon and Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, chair the reapportionment committees in their respective chambers.

They plan to file a bill to move the 2022 primary from May 24 to July 12. The runoff date would move from June 21 to Aug. 9.

McClendon said he expects a draft of the bill, being prepared by the Legislative Services Agency, today.

Secretary of State John Merrill gave lawmakers the suggested new election dates and told Alabama Daily News he is supportive of the delay in 2022, but not beyond that year. He said the proposed dates are the latest possible in order to not interfere with the Nov. 8 general election.

“Obviously there’s some concern about the Legislature having the opportunity to adequately create districts that would meet the standard required through reapportionment,” Merrill said. “And if we are not able to change the date, then there would be a number of instances where people would be campaigning for certain legislative districts or perhaps some congressional districts where those individuals would not actually be living in those districts.”

Merrill noted that that’s not as significant for Congress, because there’s no requirement that a member of Congress live in the district they represent.

“But if you live in a legislative district and you’re running for legislative district to represent the people that live in that district, you have to live in that district,” Merrill said.

If Alabama loses a congressional seat based on the 2020 count, which has been a concern of state officials for more than a year, McClendon said the remaining six would add about 120,000 people. That would represent some significant new ground for candidates.

“You’re talking new mayors, new county commission members, new voters everywhere,” McClendon said.

McClendon said he currently thinks states will get population estimates in April.

“Once we get those, we’ll know if we’ll have seven or six congressional seats,” McClendon said. “But we won’t be able to draw districts until we get data down at the precinct level, which they’re saying won’t be until the end of September.”

Last week, Merrill sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging the release of Census date in April.

“In January, the Census Bureau extended the original deadline of March 31 to April 30. Recent discussions to extend the release to September 30 would jeopardize states’ ability to effectively administer elections,” Merrill wrote. “Many states require the Legislature to use the most recent Census data to implement reapportionment, as many decisions are determined based on how districts are drawn. Seeing as Alabama is in a position to possibly lose a seat in the United States House of Representatives, such an extensive delay would place an extreme burden on citizens, candidates, and election officials alike.

“Further delay of the release of Census data will prohibit the Alabama Legislature from completing redistricting prior to state deadlines to administer the 2022 Election Cycle. Such a delay could force Alabama, and many other states, to violate laws dictating the reapportionment process.”

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