The Census Bureau released its long-awaited redistricting data Thursday afternoon, setting the stage for the release of dozens of new congressional maps ahead of the 2022 midterms.
The new maps alone could determine which party controls the House of Representatives next cycle, given Republicans’ advantage in redistricting and Democrats’ current three-seat majority. New maps in pivotal states are expected to drop in the coming weeks and months as both parties brace for contentious legal battles in an attempt to limit their opponents’ advantages.
Thursday’s data was released in a “legacy format,” meaning that they must be downloaded and converted to be adequately read by states’ mapping software. That process alone could take anywhere from days to weeks.
The release comes nearly four months after the Census Bureau announced which states were gaining or losing House seats for the next decade. The data released Thursday now helps those responsible shape the seats themselves based on areas’ respective population and demographics.
In April the bureau announced that Montana, Colorado, North Carolina, Oregon and Florida would each gain a seat and that Texas would gain two, while California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York would each lose one.
Thursday’s data was released earlier than expected, but months after it was originally planned due to the coronavirus pandemic and legal challenges over who the census should count. It gives an indication of whether people of color were undercounted in certain regions and whether states need to draw majority black or Latino districts as required by the Voting Rights Act.
Several critical states like Colorado, Michigan, Oregon and North Carolina face deadlines to submit their new maps in the coming weeks. Colorado was the first state to release a preliminary congressional map, though it may not resemble the final product.