Disturbing Census Developments

Since the process got underway, the Trump administration has tried to influence the conduct of the census in ways that appear designed to influence who gets counted, and hence, who gets more voting power under new district maps and more of the federal funds that are distributed based on census figures. Scroll back through the blog for references to the attempt last year to add a question about citizenship to this year’s census form, which was blocked by the Supreme Court. Many experts expressed concern at the time that the result would be a severe undercount of Hispanics and Latinos as well as other immigrant populations.

Two recent developments appear to substantiate those concerns. First, in July, the Trump administration issued an order to not count undocumented immigrants in the apportionment phase of redistricting. If it stands, the order would likely have an effect on the distribution of the 435 members of the House of Representatives among the states. For example, Texas could potentially pick up as many as three new representatives, which would be taken from other states, but the large number of undocumented residents of Texas could, if removed from the census count, reduce that gain. (It is projected that Texas, Florida, and California would gain one fewer seat each and Alabama, Ohio, and Minnesota would retain one additional sear if the order stands.) Again, it is worth noting that the affected populations are primarily Hispanic and Latino. The administration has been sued over the order by Common Cause and other government watchdog groups, by 20 states and several cities, and by the ACLU and immigrants’ rights groups, contending that the order is arbitrary, unconstitutional, and discriminatory. A number of experts agree that the order is likely to be found unconstitutional, as the 14th amendment to the Constitution specifies that “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.” Of course, nothing is certain until the court’s ruling comes down. It is certainly possible that the case will go all the way to the Supreme Court and it’s not clear how that might affect the process of apportionment.

The second development is an announcement by the Census Bureau this week that the census counting process will be terminated a month earlier than previously set. In normal times, the census count generally wraps up in July and the reports are due to Congress by the end of the year. Once consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic was that the usual schedule was set back, with the counting process scheduled to end at the end of October but the deadline for providing counts to Congress was not moved. (Democrats in Congress support moving that deadline as well, but Republicans have resisted.) The announcement moves the end of the counting process up to the end of September. This is the phase of the count that involves actually knocking on doors, so if that process falls short due to the shortened time frame, it is likely that this action as well will result in an undercount of lower-income and minority residents, who are less likely to get counted by other methods.

Of course, if you haven’t filled out your census form, you should do so now, and advocate for others to do so as well. You can find the form online at https://my2020census.gov.

Published by Matthew Saltzman, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, Clemson University. President, the COIN-OR Foundation, Inc. Director for Redistricting, League of Women Voters of South Carolina

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