WASHINGTON -- Virginia wants a federal court to allow the state to use raw Census 2000 numbers for drawing new congressional districts without first going to the Justice Department for approval.
The Virginia statute, signed into law April 9 by Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore, would have the state use unsampled, or raw, numbers to redraw congressional and legislative lines once results from this year's census are released.
The lawsuit, filed April 10 in U.S. District Court, asks a three-judge panel to rule that the Virginia statutes do not violate the federal Voting Rights Act. Under the act, states with a history of voting rights discrimination, including Virginia, must obtain prior approval from the Justice Department before changing affected state laws.
''It's important because redistricting needs to be done in a timely fashion prior to the 2001 election cycle. Virginia has historically used an actual count, rather than speculative guesswork,'' said David Botkins, spokesman for state Attorney General Mark Earley.
The Census Bureau would not comment on the lawsuit. Justice Department spokeswoman Kara Peterman said lawyers are reviewing the case but refused further comment.
This year's census is under way now. On Thursday, temporary workers will start going to homes to gather information from people who did not mail back forms.
Raw census data is due to be released by Dec. 31. Data adjusted using the statistical method known as sampling are due to be released by April 1, 2001.
A 1999 Supreme Court decision mandated that the federal government use nonsampled data for the purposes of reapportioning congressional seats. States will determine which set of numbers to use for drawing new political lines.
Census officials say about 1.6 percent of the population was missed in 1990, largely minorities and inner-city residents who tend to vote Democratic. Using statistical methods will provide a more accurate count of the population, they contend.
In general, Republicans oppose sampling for fear it could redraw political lines to their disadvantage.
Phil Sparks, spokesman for the advocacy group Census 2000 Initiative, said the Virginia suit will be watched closely by other states also looking to avoid having to obtain the Justice Department's consent.
''The political court battles that usually take place after the census is over have now started even before Census 2000 is completed,'' said Sparks, who supports sampling.
''Should Virginia prevail and be allowed to put its law into place, there's no question that civil rights groups in Virginia will challenge the constitutionality of the new state regulation.''
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