Undercounting Census Keeps White America In Charge
Trump wants to stop the counting a month before deadline so he can ‘gerrymander the nation.’
If the postal service is “the most American thing we’ve got,” the United States Census is certainly high on that list. Both are mandated by the US Constitution and popular with the American people.
The first census taken by our new nation after the American Revolution was directed by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson in 1790. The first nine censuses (1790-1870) were conducted by US Marshals before a Census Bureau was created.
The stakes of an accurate census count are huge for communities across the country. The count determines not only Congressional representation but federal funds outlays for the next 10 years. An undercount can leave serious money on the table for public safety, public health, immunizations, public schools, Head Start and a myriad of other vital programs. The pandemic gives this a special urgency.
The census provision in Article I, Section 2 of the US Constitution was modified by the 14th Amendment, ratified after the Civil War in 1868, that required “counting the whole number of persons in each state.” The unanimity that the US Census counts every resident of our country was recently tested in court, led by an American president who clearly had a political and ideological agenda.
Weaponizing the Census
Like his ongoing attempts to slow down mail delivery to gain an advantage in the upcoming election, President Trump has regarded the census as a convenient battleground to boost Republican fortunes by marginalizing immigrants and people of color…folks who tended to vote Democrat. Trump’s first strike was an attempt to place a citizenship question on the census form.
Rather than pondering the constitutionality of Trump’s proposal, the Trump administration’s fortuitous incompetence in constructing a rationale caused the US Supreme Court to slap it down in June 2019.
Trump then set his sights on executive actions to actually remove alleged undocumented immigrants from the census tabulation. But he needed access. Prospects for a second term did not look in his favor.
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit last spring, the original deadline for the completion of the census count was set for July 31, 2020. The pandemic of course made that impossible. With Donald Trump’s enthusiastic support, the Census Bureau announced an new deadline of October 31.
But wait a minute. Traditionally, the completed census would be due on the president’s desk by December 31. Win or lose the election, Trump would get his hands on the document. But the October 31 deadline made that unlikely, so unlikely that the House voted to extend the completion date to April 2021. Trump could very well be out of office by then, so he had to do something…anything to leverage the census numbers. And so he did. He shortened the count by a month, to September 30.
Gerrymander a Nation
Here’s where things stand: As of mid-August, just about 63% of American households have responded to the census. That’s three and a half million below the 2010 count at a similar point in time, and ominously, the lowest count per capita in this nation’s history. Sixty million households remain uncounted. The Census Bureau has about a month and a half to reach renters, immigrants, rural residents and other historically undercounted groups that have limited means to fill out a census form on their own. There is just no rational or statutory reason to shorten the count. Let’s get it right!
You see what’s going on here: With no Constitutional authority, Trump is attempting to exclude alleged undocumented immigrants from the census count despite the Article I, Section 2 provision to count “whole numbers of persons in each state.” Vanita Gupta, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, recently said, “We need the extra time to ensure that the hardest-to-count communities are included. There is no reason for the Trump administration to rush the census unless they had a partisan or illegitimate motive.”
It’s Not Over
Trump’s reckless disregard for fair play is not pleasing all Republicans. Not counting undocumented immigrants in states like California, Texas and Florida could cause those states to lose seats in the House of Representatives in the next reapportionment. “It’s a sort of a Catch-22 because it would hurt Florida,” admitted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). “It dilutes the representation of people who are here legally and eligible to vote.”
On Tuesday, Aug. 18, a coalition of civil rights organizations, cities, counties and states filed suit in a federal district court in Northern California contesting both Trump’s change of deadline and his executive order to exclude undocumented immigrants from the final census count. The suit cites violations of the Constitution’s enumeration clause, the 14th Amendment and the Administrative Procedure Act (the latter was a factor in winning the citizenship question decision).
Vanita Gupta: Trump[‘s] agenda [is] to basically erase communities of color and immigrant communities from counting politically because they view them as a threat to the Republican Party.”
The sense of impending doom that’s causing such Republican aggression comes from the census itself: It projects white people to become a “minority” in this country by 2045…just 25 years from now.
As a white person, the choice between Trump’s harsh white nationalism and living in a truly diverse country is no choice at all.
I envy my children.