Washington, DC – Today, more than 55 civil and human rights groups and expert individuals released a statement to warn against inappropriate uses of data from the American Community Survey (ACS) for the purposes of redistricting. Led by Advancing Justice – AAJC, MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), and National Conference on Citizenship, the statement urges line drawers to use decennial census data as the main source or base of total population for the purpose of drawing the final lines and to limit the use of ACS data to other appropriate redistricting purposes.

Decennial census data contains the population data necessary to ensure communities are fairly represented in each state across the country. The U.S. Constitution mandates the decennial count of all persons living in the country once every decade, while the ACS provides estimates based on a sample survey designed specifically to measure the changing characteristics of the population across the country.

“Redistricting is too critical to our democracy to not use data appropriately when drawing the final lines,” said Advancing Justice – AAJC’s President and Executive Director John C. Yang. “ACS data are critical to understanding the contours and nuances of our diverse nation, but ACS is not designed to produce official population counts and is inappropriate to use for situations when population size is essential, such as in redistricting.”

Due to the delayed delivery of census redistricting data, some states are struggling to meet their redistricting deadlines and needs considering the compressed timeline. Some potential responses to the compressed timeline, such as truncating public participation or using data other than the 2020 decennial count for final lines, could exacerbate the longstanding and ongoing efforts to control and suppress the electoral power of growing numbers of racial minorities in this country. Signers of the statement strongly reject attempts to use a dataset other than the decennial census as the primary population base to draw the final maps for redistricting, while acknowledging the appropriate use of ACS data to inform and enhance electoral line-drawing, including its role in ensuring compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

“Under longstanding Supreme Court precedent, the constitutional requirement to redraw electoral lines begins each decade with the release of decennial Census data,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund).  “That decennial data, then, is the proper and primary basis for redistricting; the delay of the data release should not precipitate reliance on some other population base.”

With the global COVID-19 pandemic and other delays during the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau had to adjust its timeline for delivery of apportionment and redistricting data to ensure they took the necessary time to properly process the data collected. It is important for the Census Bureau to continue to proceed carefully and thoughtfully as it assesses and processes the information collected during the 2020 Census to meet data quality standards. Rushing the release of redistricting data will mean rushing data processing and quality control, which could ultimately undermine the accuracy of redistricting data.

“The best way to ensure the highest quality data for redistricting is for the Census Bureau to take the time it needs to process the data and get it right,” Denice Ross, chair of the Census Quality Reinforcement Task Force at the National Conference on Citizenship.

The signers of the statement have worked throughout the census planning, execution, and processing phases with Census Bureau to get their communities counted accurately and many continue to work to create fair mapping processes and advocate for fair representation for all, regardless of political affiliation. Though each state has a different redistricting process, every state has the responsibility of ensuring fair representation and that begins with utilizing the appropriate dataset for the proper purpose and not rushing the redistricting process.