By Katy Shanahan

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau announced another delay to when states will receive data — this time, pushing the delivery of redistricting data to states by September 30, which is six months later than under normal circumstances.

This delay certainly presents some challenges to Ohio’s upcoming redistricting process. If pushed all the way to the September 30 date, under this new timeline, Ohio won’t receive its data until after state constitutionally-mandated deadlines for our state legislative maps (September 1 and 15) and on the same day as our congressional deadlines (starting on September 30).

Nevertheless, there are steps we can take right now to help mitigate any disruptions. Anticipating complications and informing the public about how we make sure we get fair maps through our redistricting has always been a priority of All On The Line — and it’s why I’ve been leading our efforts in the state for nearly two years, hosting dozens of trainings with hundreds of volunteers across the state. Particularly because of this new delay, the Ohio Legislature and Redistricting Commission can and should promptly do the same.

Here are four principles legislators and commissioners need to keep in mind:

1) The delay is no excuse to cut corners on transparency and public input.

In a flat rejection of the previous 2011 redistricting process, Ohioans overwhelmingly supported redistricting reform measures in 2015 and 2018. Our message to our map drawers is clear: we want a transparent, inclusive, map-drawing process that provides us with lots of opportunities to voice our opinions about proposed maps. The census delay should not be an excuse to cut corners in living up to the promise of the reform measures.

2) The Legislature and Commission need to get to work now.

The delay underscores the urgency for the Legislature and the Redistricting Commission to start now. Both need to get to work so they can adequately prepare their members to go through the process and to determine the delay’s impact. This preparation includes getting funding from the Legislative Redistricting Task Force so that caucuses have the necessary tools and training to draw our maps, passing the required bill to set up how members of the public can submit proposed maps, and, most importantly, talking to all of us, their constituents, about what’s at stake in our redistricting process.

3) Non-census data should not be used as the sole basis for new maps.

Federal census data is the most accurate data for map-makers to achieve equal population distribution and satisfy the many other statutory and constitutional requirements in redistricting. The best data set for redistricting is merely being delayed, not denied, and any map that primarily relies on non-census data is likely inviting a court challenge. Ohio’s map drawers should be wary of using non-census data as the basis for new maps.

4) We need new, fair maps for 2022.

Ohio is home to some of the most gerrymandered maps in the country and we shouldn’t be forced to vote under these current district lines ever again. The census delay is not an excuse to skip the redistricting process. New maps must be in place before the 2022 elections for both state legislative and congressional districts.

The upcoming redistricting process will help shape the politics and governance of Ohio for the next 10 years. We will be literally drawing our communities’ future and there is no more important task that our legislators and redistricting commissioners have this year than this one. Ohioans came together to demand a better system to draw new maps. Map drawers must now live up to the promise of getting that done — there is no time to waste.

All On The Line is the grassroots movement to end gerrymandering and restore fairness to our elections and democracy ahead of 2021 redistricting. Formerly OFA.