With the late release of the 2020 census data putting pressure on state redistricting timelines, the League of Women Voters of the United States is making a national effort to increase public awareness and engagement about the process.

The once-a-decade census is used to determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state is assigned. It also is used for redrawing state and local political districts and determining the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year.

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to protecting the right to vote, has been heavily involved in voting advocacy in the United States for more than a century.

The U.S. Census Bureau was supposed to provide redistricting data to the states by March 31, but after setbacks as a result of the pandemic, it won’t be ready until mid-to-late August and might not be available in an easy-to-use format until Sept. 30. The new congressional, state Senate and state House district lines will be drawn ahead of 2022 elections.

The redistricting process affects governmental bodies from local school boards to Congress. Redistricting determines who appears on the ballot and where people can vote, and it can influence whether elected officials respond to voters’ needs.

“Redistricting is very important because it determines who has a voice in elections, who can run for office and who gets elected,” said Maggie Castrey, committee chair for the League of Women Voters of Southwest Missouri. “And that’s critical to our democracy.”

The League of Women Voters of the United States is hosting a nationwide day of action focused on redistricting efforts on Thursday. The People Powered Fair Maps Day of Action will shine a light on the redistricting process and demand fair maps. The national kickoff pep rally virtual event starts at 9 a.m.

League chapters across the country will conduct events to increase public awareness and engagement around the redistricting process to ensure public input in how the maps are drawn.

Missouri’s Community Mapping project, which officially launches Thursday, is using new technologies and tools to allow people to create regional maps reflecting interests and concerns.

The League of Women Voters of Southwest Missouri, based in Springfield, is joining the statewide nonpartisan effort to educate people and inviting groups that may be interested in participating.

The League of Women Voters of the Greater Joplin Area, which became a chapter of the national group earlier this year, is also on board to participate.

Joplin chapter members are attending the virtual advocacy day and working within the Fair Maps project to build and promote the building of maps, according to Neely Myers, chairwoman.

Input will be collected from the public in May and June.

“For our region, we’re trying to let the public know there’s an opportunity for citizens to have some input and help develop another data layer that demographers and cartographers can use in redistricting,” Castrey said. “We’ve never had tools where ordinary citizens were able to be involved in this process, so it’s very exciting that the project is allowing citizens to go online and share their concerns.”

New district lines can be drawn to decrease voters’ power based solely on their political party. Gerrymandering, which has been done by both Democrats and Republicans, is the manipulation of the redistricting process by those in political power to keep their power.

“Gerrymandering is a national sport, and it’s a way to increase power to have more influence,” Castrey said.

The organization believes redistricting should be fair and transparent for everyone, no matter how they identify politically, she said. Previously, people had little input in the legislative redistricting process, which was controlled by political committees.

“Missouri’s redistricting process is that Democrats and Republicans can form a commission to make suggestions, and if they don’t agree, then it goes to the judiciary,” Castrey said. “The People Powered Fair Maps process wants to be able to propose district boundaries based on what the people in that area are doing and what they care about rather than the political party they belong to.”

Castrey said once the information is compiled, it will be submitted to both the Democrat and Republican commissions as well as the judicial panel if needed.

To submit input to the Missouri Mapping Project or learn more, visit http://missouri-mapping.org.

For more information, contact the League of Women Voters of Southwest Missouri at lwvsouthwestmo@gmail.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction, Carthage and Webb City.