Kentucky Politics

With the completion of the U.S. Census count, Kentucky lawmakers will soon get the data that allows them to redraw legislative and congressional boundaries.

The redistricting process takes place every 10 years following the census, allowing lawmakers to adjust district borders to account for shifts in population.

It’s also an opportunity for lawmakers to redraw boundaries for political purposes—a process known as “gerrymandering” in which district borders are drawn in a way to protect a certain party and weaken another.

Kentucky lawmakers got an update from the U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday about when they can expect to receive data from the census, which wrapped up on October 15th.

James Whitehorne, head of the bureau’s redistricting office, said the federal government is trying to get redistricting data to Kentucky as close to the legal deadline at the end of March as possible, but the process has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s going to take us a few more weeks to accommodate the changes and produce an updated schedule for the official redistricting data release,” Whitehorne said.

“As soon as we have those dates and timelines locked down, we’re going to be communicating to our officials liaisons, to stakeholders of the redistricting programs and we’ll also be making public announcements.”

The 2020 Census has been hampered by delays during the coronavirus pandemic. The count was temporarily suspended in March and over the summer after the Trump administration shortened the schedule for completing it.

The U.S. Supreme Court will also hear arguments later this month about whether to exclude unauthorized immigrants in census totals at the request of President Trump.

Whitehorne said the bureau is trying to complete state redistricting data “as soon as possible,” but is first focused on publishing data by the end of the year that allows congressional leaders to determine how to divvy up the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“We have altered our production schedule to focus solely on getting apportionment out the door as close to its statutory deadline as possible,” Whitehorne said.

The responsibility of altering the 138 districts in the Kentucky General Assembly and the state’s 6 congressional districts will fall on the Republican-led legislature. This is the first time that the GOP will have full control of Kentucky’s redistricting process.

If Kentucky doesn’t get Census results by the time the legislature adjourns on March 31, the state’s redistricting process will likely be kicked to the 2022 legislative session.

Republicans have had supermajority control of the state House of Representatives and Senate since 2017 and added on to their legislative ranks during this year’s elections.

Though Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear can veto the legislature’s redistricting plans, lawmakers can override the governor’s veto with a simple majority of votes. Republicans control 75 out of 100 seats in the House and 30 out of 38 seats in the Senate.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.