Census changes raise questions for states holding 2021 elections

Shortening the timeline for 2020 Census field data collection and reporting could have ramifications for states looking at redistricting next year. This is especially the case for New Jersey and Virginia, which both have 2021 state legislature elections and are gauging whether to delay their redistricting schedule.

Initially, the coronavirus prompted the bureau to delay its delivery of apportionment counts to the president until the end of April 2021. The decennial census numbers are used to draw legislative and congressional districts. States were expecting to receive this data by July 31, 2021. But the bureau decided to compress its timeline, ending field data collection a month early, in September 2020. The deadlines for apportionment and redistricting data were slashed by four months, and states are now set to receive their data by March 31, 2021.

On Thursday, Justice Department attorneys, arguing on behalf of the Census Bureau, said in a court filing that the bureau has “already begun taking steps to conclude field operations.” The Justice Department is representing the bureau in a lawsuit filed by the National Urban League, which is suing to extend the bureau’s data collection operation. The Justice Department added that any extension “could not be implemented at this point without significant costs and burdens to the Census Bureau.”

Even under normal conditions — without the impact of the coronavirus — New Jersey and Virginia would be receiving the data in February 2021 and would have a tight window to draw new legislative maps and carry out their elections.

In New Jersey, voters will see an amendment on their ballot in November that would put redistricting on hold and use the current maps for 2021, if data isn’t delivered by February 15. In Virginia, if the data comes in too late, State Senator George Barker says it’s likely the attorney general could be asked to approve to use Virginia’s current maps for 2021, rather than rushing to redraw.

Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center, said it would be close to “impossible” for the two states to draw new maps if data isn’t delivered by the end of summer. But given the levels of data that states will need, he said the “prudent thing for states would still be to plan for some sort of delay.” Experts are finding that the shortened timeline could also impact the quality of the data, a concern expressed by lawmakers, Governors and government watchdogs.

On August 18, a letter from the Office of Inspector General expressed concern that the Census Bureau would not have enough field employees to carry out its shortened deadline. It said that while the bureau aimed to hire just above 300,000 enumerators for field data collection, as of August 17, it only had 220,000.

CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro and associate producer Eleanor Watson have a closer look at what the shortened Census timeline could mean for states here.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

BIDEN-HARRIS CAMPAIGN

Joe Biden spoke and took questions for almost 40 minutes this afternoon in Wilmington, Delaware, focusing on the “national emergency” facing schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports.

Biden called for the Trump administration to offer more financial assistance for schools from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He also questioned whether misinformation on the pandemic will decrease confidence in a future potential vaccine. CBS News political correspondent Ed O’Keefe asked Biden about his stated willingness to shut down the entire economy over COVID-19 if advised.

He responded that there would be “no need” to shut down the whole economy but said the virus needs to be quelled before full recovery can occur. Biden also admitted that his previously pushed nationwide face mask mandate if elected is not squarely within executive authority so the call was meant to encourage local and state leaders to implement their own mandates. Before his visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Thursday, Biden said “at a minimum” the police officers need to be charged in connection to the shootings of Jacob Blake in Kenosha and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. On the future of in-person campaigning, Biden said “I would like to get out more” to travel, but he is “trying to set an example” and maintain safety.

After kicking off her “Back to School” tour in Wilmington, Delaware on Tuesday, CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports that Dr. Jill Biden continued her tour with virtual visits to Pasco-Hernando State College in the Tampa Bay area in Florida and a virtual roundtable in North Carolina Wednesday. In a half-hour long Zoom conversation, the former Second Lady encouraged Pasco-Hernando students and educators to champion the issues that are most important to them while hearing concerns around the financial, technological and even mental health issues surrounding a return to school or continued remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. In an interview with CBS affiliate WTSP, Biden said she would defer to the medical professionals on when it’s safe for students to return to in-person learning.

“We have to listen to the doctors and the scientists and they’re the ones that are going to tell us when it’s safe to go back,” said Biden. “When they say it’s safe to go back, we’ll go back but until then I think we have to continue to do remote learning. I think that’s the, the safest choice right now.”

The tour comes as some students in some counties throughout Florida returned to in-person instruction this week and as North Carolina entered Phase 2.5 of re-opening Monday.

Meanwhile Biden’s presidential campaign and joint fundraising committees raised a whopping $364.5 million in August, the campaign said Wednesday, setting a new monthly record for presidential fundraising. The campaign said online donations totaled $205 million, or 57%, representing “the best month of online fundraising in American political history.” More than 4 million people have made contributions including 1.5 million new donors in August, according to the campaign.

The record cash haul came as Biden picked Kamala Harris as his running mate, and Democrats held their national convention last month. Biden’s August fundraising more than doubles what the former vice president, DNC and joint fundraising committees raised in July. It’s roughly six times what Biden’s campaign raised across all of 2019. President Trump has not yet released his August fundraising totals. He and his committees raised $165 million in July. Read more about Biden’s August fundraising from Erickson and CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice here.

TRUMP-PENCE CAMPAIGN

What was supposed to be an official White House trip to North Carolina turned into an impromptu campaign rally with roughly 500 supporters greeting and cheering for President Trump on the tarmac at Wilmington’s airport. CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar says the president told supporters that he thinks America is “rounding the turn on this China virus.”

He also claimed his opponent would raise taxes and go after second amendment rights. Mr. Trump also attacked Democrats for never saying “anything bad about” the protesters in cities like Portland and Kenosha. During the official part of the trip, the president spoke for less than 20 minutes. In Wilmington, with the retired U.S.S North Carolina in the background, President Trump commemorated the 75th anniversary marking the end of World War II.

“American warriors did not defeat fascism and oppression overseas only to watch our freedoms be trampled by violent mobs here at home,” President Trump said. CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga reports today’s visit marked President Trump’s second North Carolina trip in two weeks, as he tries to solidify support in the swing state ahead of November. Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller said the president’s re-election bid “believe[s] we are safe” in the Tar Heel state. North Carolina begins sending out absentee ballots Friday, September 4 and will be the first state to do so. CBS News battleground tracker rates North Carolina as a “toss up.”

NEWSMAKERS

KANYE WEST

An Arizona judge says he plans to be “in a position to rule” soon after a hearing scheduled for Thursday over an eleventh-hour challenge to Kanye West’s bid to qualify for the presidential election in Arizona, telling attorneys at a status hearing Wednesday he was aware counties might begin printing ballots with West’s name by September 8.

A complaint filed Monday in Arizona says West is ineligible to run as an independent in the battleground state, citing his active registration as a Republican in Wyoming, reports CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. More than 100 out-of-state paid circulators have registered to gather signatures for West in Arizona, listing “National Ballot Access” as their employer. Several have worked with other signature firms with GOP ties, like “Let the Voters Decide.”

Gregg Keller, reportedly a campaign adviser to West, tweeted this week he expected the rapper to “have more than enough signatures to qualify for the Arizona ballot. And it’s not going to be particularly close.” The Washington Free Beacon reported Tuesday that West will be filing 57,892 signatures in total, more than the 39,039 required to get on the ballot. In Virginia, CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro says West’s petitions are being challenged by his own recorded electors who claim their oaths were “obtained under false pretenses.” Marc Elias, who served as legal counsel for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and is currently a partner at the Perkins Cole law firm, is listed as one of the lawyers representing the electors.

STATE-BY-STATE

MICHIGAN

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey announced a partnership on Wednesday to support the general election in Detroit, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster.

The partnership, which includes Wayne County officials, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the Center for Tech and Civic Life will involve “collaborative efforts to recruit and train additional staff and election workers, open 14 new satellite clerk offices throughout the city, and provide additional support to ensure the integrity of the city’s absentee ballot tabulation.”

The announcement comes after the Wayne County Board of Canvassers found 72% of absentee voting precincts had different vote totals tabulated compared to the poll book totals. Overall, 46% of precincts did not match. According to the secretary of state’s office, the partnership allows for added capacity for Detroit’s elections, including 14 additional satellite clerk offices for voters to register and request absentee ballots, more than 30 drop boxes installed around the city, recruiting 6,000 election workers, hiring staff to support the Detroit City Clerk’s office and revising protocols for ballot counting.

Also in Michigan, Brewster reports that the Detroit Red Wings and Tigers have announced plans to offer team facilities for election administration. This makes Detroit the first city where all four major pro sports teams are using facilities to engage in election activity. Little Caesars Arena, home to the Red Wings, will serve as a training venue for election workers during September and October. Comerica Park, home to the Tigers, is offering to hold a ballot drop box if the city needs additional locations. The Pistons and Lions previously announced plans to use their buildings for election activities.

MINNESOTA

Democratic vice presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris joined a virtual “Kitchen Table” conversation with Minnesota leaders Wednesday afternoon. Harris gave brief remarks and criticized the Trump administration’s push to send children back to school.

She said children’s safety is the “last thing on Donald Trump’s mind,” and slammed Mr. Trump for “offering no real plan to help schools reopen safely and he’s refusing to do the work of getting the virus under control.” She added, “His administration is attempting to bully schools into reopening without the support they need and without the support they deserve, because, after all, they simply want to educate our children.”

In a news conference, Minnesota GOP Chairman Jennifer Carnahan framed Biden as “continuing to be controlled by the far left of his party.” She said, “He is not standing up and being a voice to his base about what’s right for America.” Asked if President Trump is responsible for the civil unrest and his rhetoric regarding protests around the country, Carnahan falsely claimed the riots are “linked” to the Democratic Party, without citing any evidence, reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman.

“These riots are 100% linked to the Democratic Party and their affiliated groups that are encouraging, promoting, paying to fly these people in, paying to bail them out of jail that are fostering this division,” Carnahan said. “And the president has tried to take a very strong stand on protecting all Americans and standing behind the men and women that serve our country, regardless of what political affiliation that people are aligned to.”

MONTANA

The RNC, Trump campaign and Republican groups have filed a lawsuit in Montana, challenging Governor Steve Bullock’s directive allowing counties to mail ballots to all registered and active voters by October 9 for the general election and return a pre-paid envelope. CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga says counties can also opt out. In its complaint, the GOP-aligned plaintiffs argue Montana’s new election law violates both the Elections Clause and Electors Clause of the U.S. Constitution, calling it a “brazen power grab.” During Montana’s June 2 primary, all 56 counties in Montana chose to hold elections by mail and saw a near record turnout of 55%.

NEVADA

Over the weekend, Biden’s campaign released new Spanish-language ads decrying President Trump to air on television and online in Arizona, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Now the campaign says one of the spots, with a soundtrack by acclaimed Mexican singer Alejandro Fernández, will air in neighboring Nevada as well. The expanded ad buy, which totals $136,330 on Spanish-language broadcast television in Nevada according to Kantar/CMAG tracking data, comes as a new poll shows Biden with a five-point lead over President Trump in the western state. First reported on by The Nevada Independent, CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin reports the survey is the first such publicly released poll in nearly four months of the state. The poll shows Biden leading among Hispanics by 13 points, smaller than Biden’s nearly 20-point lead in recent polls among Hispanic voters in Arizona.

PENNSYLVANIA

A new lawsuit filed today in Pennsylvania state court asks for voters to be able to obtain a mail-in ballot digitally if it doesn’t arrive in time for the election, reports CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak. The Fair Elections Center and Hogan Lovells are representing a voter who requested a mail-in ballot, never received it, and didn’t vote in the state’s primary.

A federal judge in another Pennsylvania case has issued an order allowing blind voters to access ballots online, and the state currently allows military and overseas voters to access a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot online. This new Commonwealth Court suit comes after the Post Office warned Pennsylvania and other states that it couldn’t meet the ballot delivery and return timetables in place for the election. It argues that voters not getting ballots in a timely manner violates the state Constitution’s Elections Clause and requests the printable digital ballot as a “fail-safe option.”

TEXAS

The Texas Supreme Court has put an emergency stay on the Harris County Clerk’s plan to send mail ballot request forms to all registered voters, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster.

The county, home to Houston, has more than 2 million registered voters. While the applications were going to everyone, Texas only allows people to vote by mail who fall under the following requirements: voters who are 65 or older, disabled, out of the county on Election Day and during the period of early voting, or confined in a jail but otherwise eligible.

“Under Texas law, voting by mail is lawful only under limited circumstances,” the Court wrote in its ruling. “Respondent has stated that he is sending applications to vote by mail to all registered voters in Harris County regardless of whether the application was requested or the voter has a disability. Respondent’s actions are contrary to the law.”

In a court filing on Tuesday, Harris County lawyers said the clerk had already agreed “not to send any unsolicited vote-by-mail applications to voters under 65 until five days after a temporary injunction hearing at mutually agreeable date before September 9.”

UP FOR DEBATE

CENTER STAGE

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced the moderators for the three presidential debates and vice presidential debate, Wednesday.

Chris Wallace, anchor of “Fox News Sunday,” will moderate the first presidential debate between President Trump and Joe Biden on September 29 in Cleveland. Steve Scully of C-SPAN will serve as moderator for the second debate on October 15, a town-hall style event staged in Miami. The third debate, set in Nashville, will be moderated by Kristen Welker of NBC News on October 22. The vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris will take place in Salt Lake City on October 7, moderated by Susan Page of USA Today.

CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga noted the Trump campaign published a list of Trump-campaign approved moderators last month, including conservative commentators and traditional network news anchors. Wallace, Scully, Welker and Page were not on that list.

“These are not the moderators we would have recommended if the campaign had been allowed to have any input,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. “One thing is sure: Chris Wallace’s selection ensures that Biden will finally see him face-to-face after dodging his interview requests.”

Asked how President Trump is preparing for the candidate match-ups, Murtaugh remarked, “I think if you asked the president, he would say that he is preparing for the debates by running the country.” The Trump campaign spokesperson said he’s not aware of any formal debate preparation, though campaign advisors tell CBS News they have reviewed previous Biden debate performances. “I think Joe Biden in the past has been a good debater,” Trump campaign senior adviser and daughter-in-law to the president Lara Trump told CBS News, last month. “I think the question is how will he handle President Trump? He really hasn’t been pressed in many cases,” Ms. Trump added. The Trump campaign has repeatedly dogged Biden to commit in writing that he’ll attend this year’s in-person debates. Biden and his campaign have stated on multiple occasions that he plans to participate in all three debates.

Biden suggested a new element for the debates: a running fact check at the bottom of the screen. But he said he’s not getting his hopes up.

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE SENATE

MASSACHUSETTS

The Kennedy family’s perfect record in Massachusetts elections ended on Tuesday when Congressman Joe Kennedy III conceded to incumbent Senator Ed Markey in the Democratic Senate primary, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. The grandson of Robert F. Kennedy took the stage at his campaign headquarters in Watertown shortly after 10 p.m. to address the press and thank campaign staff.

“I called Senator Markey to congratulate him and pledge my support to him and his campaign in the months ahead,” Kennedy said. “The senator is a good man. You have never heard me say otherwise. It was difficult at times between us. Good elections often get heated, but I’m grateful for the debate.”

Markey, who has not lost an election in 47 years, will go on to face Republican Kevin O’Connor in November, but likely won’t have a problem as the seat is considered safely Democratic. Just a year ago, Markey was already facing two challengers and was down double digits in the polls to Congressman Kennedy, who had not even formally entered the race at the time. Markey made the race competitive by focusing on his progressive agenda and his co-authorship of the Green New Deal with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her endorsement energized many young voters who contributed to Tuesday night’s outcome. Since Massachusetts law states a candidate can’t run for House and Senate at the same time, Kennedy won’t be heading back to the House in January and his political future is unclear. His final thank you on Tuesday night in his concession speech was to his two young children, Ellie and James, who are four and two years old.

“To Ellie and James, who probably will not see this until tomorrow and won’t understand it for a long time, if there’s one message from your dad tonight, always spend your life in the ring,” Kennedy said. “It is worth the fight.”

IN THE HOUSE

MASSACHUSETTS

The Democratic primary to fill Joe Kennedy III’s 4th District seat is still too close to call, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro, with moderate Jake Auchincloss barely leading progressive Jesse Mermell. Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin issued an order to allow local election clerks to count any remaining primary ballots that arrived in drop boxes by 8 p.m. on Tuesday. The count will take place Thursday. Auchincloss encouraged his voters in a statement to “allow the process to comprehensively and lawfully unfold” and added he’s confident his campaign will remain on top after all the results come out. Mermell said in a statement that “it’s too soon for anyone to declare victory or stop counting,” saying this is Massachusetts’ first go at an increased mail vote presence and that there are many votes still not counted. “With the November election looming and a President bent on twisting results, it’s important that we here set the standard and get the right result,” she said.

Meanwhile, both Massachusetts incumbents facing notable progressive challengers sailed through their Democratic primaries. Congressman Stephen Lynch, who has represented the 8th District since 2001, won his primary against Dr. Robbie Goldstein. The primary in Massachusetts’ 1st District was one of the first to be called Tuesday, as Congressman Richard Neal beat Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. Morse was backed by the Justice Democrats group, which saw a string of success this summer for progressive challengers. But Neal won handily, with the unofficial results showing him up by 17 points, and in his remarks attributed the win to “working-class Democrats” in the district. He also said in his remarks that he’d work on adding to the Affordable Care Act and getting passable “green” legislation in his next term as Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, the lead tax-writing committee in the House

The primary between the two grew hostile in the last month, after allegations of inappropriate conduct between students and Morse, who was a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. It was revealed the allegations were part of a coordinated political attack against Morse, which he addressed during his Tuesday remarks.

“These kind of tactics in our community are unacceptable. We need to hold our elected officials accountable,” he said, adding that Neal and Democratic leadership in the state and in D.C. played a role. The Victory Fund, a political arm for the LGBTQ community, said the “efforts to sensationalize and weaponize Alex’s sexual orientation certainly influenced the outcome of this race.” Morse is the first openly gay mayor of the town of Holyoke, Massachusetts. When talking to the press, Morse said “nothing is off the table” for a potential 2022 rematch, referencing the wins progressives Cori Bush and Marie Newman had in their second campaign.