On Friday, the U.S. Census Bureau announced a six-month delay in releasing redistricting data to the states. Due to COVID-19, the office said, the census data that informs how electoral districts are redrawn once per decade, originally supposed to be released at the end of March, now won’t be be available until September 30.

The delay has implications for dozens of municipal elections in North Carolina, in towns and cities that elect representatives in similarly populated districts where electors only vote for representatives in their district of residence–including in Raleigh and Cary in the Triangle, and nearly three dozen other North Carolina towns and cities in total. These municipalities originally were required to submit their new maps based on updated population numbers by July 21; candidates would be able to file to run for office shortly thereafter.   

According to Gerry Cohen, a Wake County Board of Elections member, former N.C. General Assembly special counsel, and North Carolina elections expert, a state law that dates back to 1990 would, if triggered, put the election dates for municipalities where voters elect candidates from their districts on the date of the 2022 spring primary (currently scheduled for March 8), and any potential runoff election on a second primary date seven to 10 weeks after the first primary.

Candidates for these local offices, then, wouldn’t file to run until December.

The law exists due to similar census delays in 1990 that allowed towns to delay their municipal elections until 1992.

Durham, Angier, and Morrisville use the ward system to elect their representatives, wherein districts exist for candidate residency, but candidates are elected by all city voters, and won’t require updated population counts to redraw districts. 

“So it’s unclear if they are subject to [the 1990 law] at all,” Cohen says.

State lawmakers could change the 1990 law, Cohen says, but he doesn’t know if they will.

There’s also the possibility that the March primary elections for the midterms in November of 2022 could be delayed. Lawmakers were originally supposed to redraw district maps for Congress and state legislative offices this summer, but won’t have the census data available to them to do so until the fall.

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