TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's decennial redistricting process is encountering a pandemic-related delay in data delivery by the U.S. Census Bureau that threatens to hobble an already tight timetable.

What You Need To Know

  •  Florida is preparing to start its decennial redistricting process

  •  Street-level demographic data was supposed to be delivered to the state last spring

  • Census officials say the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many of the delays

  • State officials don't expect to have the data until August or September

The street-level demographic data, originally expected to arrive last spring, is necessary for state legislators to begin the politically fraught work of tracing the boundaries of the state's legislative and congressional district boundaries.

Census officials have reported that collecting the data has been exceedingly difficult due to the pandemic. While the bureau isn't committing to a specific target date for the release, legislative leaders are planning on August or September.

"No map could be drawn today that would have any ability to meet with reality until we get that block-level data. And so, once that comes, then I suppose the committees will start to work," Rep. Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast), the Republican selected to serve as Speaker of the Florida House for the 2022-24 term, told reporters this month.

While the 2022 legislative session doesn't begin until January, work on the maps is supposed to begin when lawmakers return to Tallahassee for committee hearings starting in September.

Open government advocates, however, argue the Census data delay need not slow down the redistricting process.

"I don't think that you have to wait until that data comes, because it will result in a mashup, a rush, a crash of information," said Trimmel Gomes, who serves on the board of the Florida First Amendment Foundation.

"We don't necessarily have to stop the entire train from moving. Do some of the pre-planning, the work ahead and have essential parts in place and when that critical data becomes available, then go forward."

Gomes suggested the delay could embolden the Legislature's majority Republicans to fast-track a process whereby they hope to draw boundaries favorable to expanding their already commanding presence in Tallahassee.

Following the drawing of the 2012 maps, the legislature was sued by third-party groups that alleged the boundaries ran afoul of the 'Fair Districts' constitutional amendments approved by voters in 2010 and aimed at reducing politically-motivated gerrymandering.

The Florida Supreme Court ultimately intervened, redrawing disputed district boundaries itself.