TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. ––  Tompkins County officials are weighing their options to ensure proper population representation and redistricting for elections after COVID-19 has complicated census efforts.

2020 census data won’t be calculated and returned until at least mid-2021. One of the implications of the late returns will be on local redistricting for elections. The redistricting process ensures that residents receive adequate representation in the County Legislature.

Legislator Amanda Champion shared options for adjusted terms at the May 19 legislature meeting. One option would be to maintain the current election cycle, with the next election for four-year terms happening in 2021, based on the current legislative districts. Another option being considered is to change the upcoming 2021 elections from four-year to two-year terms and to return to four-year terms in 2023 after new district lines are drawn based on the Census data. Options will be discussed at the next Government Operations Committee meeting on June 4 (streaming on YouTube) before a recommendation moves to the full Legislature.

“This impacts our county, our residents, and anyone else who wants to run for office,” Champion told the legislature.

The county legislature is inviting members of the public to share their opinions on terms with legislators, and are encouraged to contact Legislature@tompkins-co.org.

Each of the 14 Legislative districts in Tompkins County has roughly 7,200 constituents. For example, Lansing has two representatives, while the City of Ithaca has four representatives. The current legislative districts, with their estimated populations based on previous census findings can be found here.

Redistricting efforts will also be carried out by the City of Ithaca’s wards and at the state-level, impacting congressional districts. An accurate count from the Census ensures that every resident is represented equitably.

County officials are urging Households and individuals who have not yet completed the 2020 U.S. Census to do so as soon as possible. Because the 2020 Census process has been impacted due to COVID-19 and many in-person census field office operations are on hold, in-person census takers are not approaching households as they usually would over the summer.

Every household in the U.S. has been mailed a questionnaire and can complete the census online, by mail, or over the phone. Mailings and postcards to households include a unique Census ID to use while filling out the questionnaire online.

57.4% of households in Tompkins County have taken the census according to the online census response rate tracker. The number is calculated relative to a Census Bureau estimates based on the 2010 count, added housing stock data, and updated data from the American Community Survey.

“The goal is to get to 100%, we’re committed to counting everyone who calls Tompkins County Home,” said Tompkins County Legislator Mike Lane shared, who chairs the Census Complete Count Committee.

According to the online tracker, census tract counts in Downtown Ithaca and surrounding Cornell University and Ithaca College are low, with Collegetown tracts only having a 20-30% response rate. County officials are asking residents who live in these areas, or who are temporarily away due to COVID-19, to make efforts to complete the census where they would be living normally.

College students who have left Ithaca due to the coronavirus are encouraged to be counted as being in Tompkins County, as the Census counts people where they expected to reside on April 1 of 2020. This is to ensure that an accurate count of the number of people who live in an area are represented.

An undercounted area or county could result in reduced federal funding for municipalities and nonprofits, implications for federal, state, and local representation by elected officials, access to public transportation, and inaccurate data for business and nonprofit planning.

Residents can take the U.S. Census online, or call 1-844-330-2020.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com