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How The 2020 Census Data Will Shape Voting Districts For The Next Decade

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We have new census results today that will be used to reset democracy in this country for the next decade. After months of delays, the Census Bureau has released new information about the race and ethnicity of people living in the U.S. These numbers will be used to redraw voting districts at every level of government, including Congress. NPR census correspondent Hansi Lo Wang joins us now. Hey, Hansi.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right. So what do these new census results reveal about the demographics of this country?

WANG: Well, the Census Bureau says over the past decade, we're seeing more racial and ethnic diversity, especially among children. And there's been an increase in the number of people who, when they answer the questions about race and ethnicity on census forms, they're checking off boxes for more than one group. Now, the largest racial or ethnic group in the U.S., according to the 2020 census results, remains the white population. And there's also some interesting changes within the population. Compared to 2010, the Census Bureau, says the share of people who checked off only the white box on census forms dropped by about 9%. But the share of people who checked off white and one or more other racial groups increased by more than 300%.

CHANG: Wow.

WANG: All these statistics, we should keep in mind, though, are coming out more than four months late because of the pandemic and interference from former President Donald Trump's administration. And these challenges are going to spark some debate going forward about how to make sense of what these results mean.

CHANG: You were saying former President Donald Trump's administration's interference. What kind of effect could that have had on the census results that we're seeing today?

WANG: Well, all of that chaos, really, during the census could have contributed to what's expected to be an undercount of Black people, Latinos and Native Americans - all groups, the bureau estimates, who were undercounted in the 2010 census. We do know right now that there was a high rate of households not answering the race and what's called the Hispanic origin question on 2020 census forms. But the bottom line is it looks like the country is going to have to live with these results in many ways because, again, the release of this data was delayed for months. And as a result, many states are facing looming deadlines to use this data to redraw voting districts for the next 10 years of election.

CHANG: Right. All right. Well, now that these census results are out, can you just give us a sense, Hansi, of how that data will be used to redraw voting districts?

WANG: Well, political map makers around the country, if they haven't done it already, are probably busy downloading these data files on the Census Bureau's website. And they're going to try to use these new demographic statistics to draw what are supposed to be voting districts for elected officials in Congress, state houses and local government - districts that are supposed to fairly represent the population. And there are a lot of different ways of measuring that. And the census results today that came out today will play a key role, for example, in trying to make sure these maps are not drawn in a way that could dilute the votes of minority groups. And, you know, this really kickstarts what's really likely to be another very messy redistricting process.

CHANG: And what will you be watching for as redistricting ramps up? And I'm just curious. What's the timeline on when we should expect those results?

WANG: Well, there's a lot of pressure right now in states with early legal deadlines for finishing draft voting maps. Colorado and Oregon have less than seven weeks before their first deadline in the approval process. Ohio's redistricting commission has less than three weeks. I'm also watching, though, how rural communities and local governments react when they start going through the census data. The bureau's using new privacy protections that might make it hard to decipher the demographics of certain neighborhoods at the census block level. And the bureau says this is intentional. It's trying to keep people anonymous in this data. But this is a controversial move by the bureau. And I'm going to be tracking to see how people react, especially people who rely on this data, as redistricting continues.

CHANG: That is NPR census correspondent Hansi Lo Wang. Thank you so much, Hansi.

WANG: You're welcome, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.