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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Even if the 2020 census isn’t worried about Trump, it still is!

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The upcoming census has some people worried that the integrity of the count could be compromised. What does that mean, exactly?

The 2020 census is one of the most important administrative proceedings in the country, and as such, the Census Bureau has the authority to defend the integrity of the census and its questions. The Census Bureau and Justice Department argued in December that the bureau’s efforts would protect data from being used for nefarious purposes, and cited a 2011 Supreme Court ruling, Stivers v. Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, that said the bureau’s responses to congressional redistricting could not be used to gerrymander districts.

Last week, the Trump administration proposed a legal strategy for using census data for redistricting. Doing so would violate the Constitution’s mandate to be as “light as possible” on costs.

How big a deal is it that the Supreme Court, and now the Trump administration, has made moving forward on redistricting a high priority?

The census is an essential component of the country’s decision-making process, and it is imperative to implement an accurate count of the U.S. population. In the Senate, senators and representatives have a say in redistricting. It is likely that it will be harder for the Justice Department to gain access to census data used for redistricting if it is still gathered and counted prior to 2020.

The Census Bureau has had an increasingly close working relationship with Justice Department staff in recent years, including acting deputy director Richard Strawn who served on the bureau’s Bureau of Justice Statistics prior to his promotion to acting deputy director, where he has served since last December. The Trump administration’s focus on redistricting, while perhaps understandable, presents an opportunity to smooth over the risk that the bureau could lose the ability to make informed decisions about the way a redistricting process is conducted.

What are some other questions on the census?

Health insurance coverage, among other questions, is high on the list for those who might not agree with the politically charged questions on the census form. What happens if the government makes citizens willing to answer health care coverage questions on the census by providing cash or other forms of payment?

The results of these questions might inform which states, county or cities receive or will receive some type of federal funding or tax incentives.

The census is not required to include certain health care coverage questions. If the government were to ask for permission to collect information on how many Americans are enrolled in health care plans, who would have the power to block the release of that information?

To what extent are employers and insurers using the data from the census to set up its own questionnaires?

Can members of Congress who reject the questions count the number of minorities and people of limited financial means as their own residents?

The census is the first step in the U.S. congressional voting districts process, so if a majority of members of Congress refuse to accept the census information on race and gender, will the district boundaries be redesigned? If not, what happens to those seats?

People should not be concerned that the census is stopping a few lines from being included in the form. When people fill out the census form, they will be asked a few questions — one on race and ethnicity, one on how many additional children and children under the age of 18, and one on their age. Because these questions are so broad and allow data to be entered from anywhere, census workers will only narrow down the options through a statistical test. If data is lacking, the sample will be changed until it is in sufficient quantity, and then the option will be included in the final form.

The census is not called the “Deep Throat” or the “Liberty Valance” for nothing. If it were, this administration would not have tried to make sure that Congressional districts are as out of whack as they currently are, or that redistricting remains a partisan priority.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will start collecting data on employers and employees for use in improving the accuracy of and workforce diversity in federal government agencies next month. What does this mean for the 2020 census?

As the data collected from this effort begins to be analyzed and used for analysis later in 2019, this effort will allow the Census Bureau to make better observations of the racial composition of the U.S. workforce and how that demographic composition has changed over time. This will help the agency and state and local agencies know more about how their local workforce and policy needs evolve over time.

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