Update: The Supremem Court has rendered a decision on Bartlett v. Strickland. See more here.On Thursday, just over a year from from census day, the Government Accountability Office said that the census is still behind schedule. Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the subcommittee that oversees the census, said it "is approaching a state of emergency." Even once former Gov. Gary Locke is in place as commerce secretary, there will be two controversies to consider.The U.S. Supreme Court has already heard arguments on a North Carolina political representation case, Bartlett v. Strickland, that will finally determine how "majority minority" seats are to be drawn. In short, Democrats want a freer hand in determining the number of minority voters it takes to protect African-American or Hispanic districts, while Republicans believe that utilizing absolute percentages should continue. Democrats typically argue that fewer numbers of minority voters within specific boundaries can protect Voting Rights districts. Minorities, particularly African-Americans, are loyal Democratic voters, so drawing smaller segments of minority populations into the maximum number of districts will normally result in more Democrats being elected. Republicans claim—and the high courts have previously affirmed—that the district’s previous minority population benchmark must be attained in future districts to secure election of the dominant minority community’s candidate of choice. A larger percentage of minorities in fewer districts usually leads to a more Republican political map. The high court could rule as early as March.The second major pre-census issue surrounds the concept of sampling. Eight years ago, the Bush Administration rejected the premise that minority communities are under-counted, thus invalidating the idea that a mathematical formula is needed to estimate the number of people residing in the inner cities. Therefore, the 2000 census individually counted every person. Challenges went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the Bush formula. Gary Locke, the new Obama Administration Commerce Secretary-designee is now on record saying that sampling will only be used to confirm the accuracy of the 2010 census count. The Census Bureau is in the final stages of adopting the official counting procedure for the next tabulation, so Locke and the eventual new census director will have a difficult time in making major changes to the counting formula. The real redistricting battles are still an election cycle away, but these early skirmishes will begin to define the ultimate winners and losers.Jim Ellis provides election analysis to private clients through the PRIsm Information Network. He formerly advised political leaders in the House Republican Majority and national party apparatus and has participated in corporate grassroots issue advocacy, political consulting and coalition programs since 1983.
Update: The Supremem Court has rendered a decision on Bartlett v.