Four in 10 People Remain Uncounted… But the Administration Just Tightened the Census Deadline

August 7, 2020 | 10:25 am
Dafne Cholet/Flickr
Michael Latner
Senior Voting Rights Fellow

The Trump Administration now says that all counting efforts in the Decennial Census will stop on September 30th, a month earlier than was scheduled, after the Census Bureau had announced in April that they needed to extend the timeline for data collection due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This latest attempt to undermine the scientific integrity of the US Census began in late June, when it was reported that they would stop door-knocking a month early.

This attack, the third in a series of efforts to sabotage the largest scientific project undertaken by the government, comes as 4 in 10 residents likely remain to be counted. We know from previous Census and American Community Survey data that hard-to-count populations include disproportionately more people of color, non-English speaking populations, and rural populations. Across the United States, substantial undercounts are being reported, including count estimates of 49% in Alaska, 55% in Maine and less than 60% in Arizona.

First, the administration attempted to place a citizenship question on the Census, which court records revealed was motivated by racial discrimination in an attempt to under-represent Hispanic residents for purposes of gerrymandering electoral districts. After the Supreme Court stopped that effort, the president floated the idea of not counting non-citizens in the Census. This second attempt to target immigrant communities and dilute their political power was immediately criticized by constitutional scholars as a violation of the Constitution’s requirement to count “all persons.”

Now, the administration has taken their efforts to truly Orwellian levels, simply removing references to the October 31st end date for the count from the Census Bureau website.

Congress needs to immediately legislate an extended Census end date for October 31st in the next COVID-19 relief bill. It is included in the House version of the bill, but missing in the Senate’s proposal. Also in the House legislation are provisions to maintain scientific integrity in the operation of federal agencies, including the Census Bureau. Had these protections already been in place, we could have avoided the openly political decisions that have taken place at the Bureau, including decisions on leadership, the unscientific decision to use the Census to measure citizenship, and this latest attempt to alter data collection.

Litigation is the only other alternative, as the country simply can’t afford to have the single most important and expensive scientific instrument at its disposal contaminated for political purposes. In addition to the 800 billion in federal programs and infrastructure funding that are determined by the Census, there is the overall value of the billions of economic decisions about purchasing, supply and demand opportunities made by small business and corporations derived from Census estimates for the next decade.

Even more broadly, the Census is the technology that gives life to our constitutional protections, as the measurement of population traits is what allows our political power to literally be apportioned for purposes of electoral representation. To the degree that it is corrupted, so is our democracy.

About the author

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Michael Latner is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. His research focuses on political representation and electoral systems, including redistricting and gerrymandering in the US, and the impact of electoral administrative law on political participation.