The Looming Census Problem

The Daily Escape:

Breckinridge, CO – July 2020 photo by doughboyme

(The Wrongologist is taking a summer vacation starting today. We will return on August 9th. Wrongo urges all readers to also take a break. Got to get ready for the silly season that starts soon.)

Time to talk 2020 census. The Census Bureau’s follow-up visits to non-responding households were originally scheduled to begin in early May, but they were delayed by a freeze on census field operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April, the Trump administration asked Congress to extend the deadlines for the Census Bureau to turn in their head count data. The Census Bureau independently postponed finishing field operations for the census from the end of July to the end of October.

The House agreed to the extensions, but the Senate hasn’t. Senate Republicans on Monday instead proposed additional funding as part of their HEAL bill to help conclude the census on time, without extending the deadline.

The Census Bureau is required to turn over numbers for apportioning Congressional seats by Dec. 31, and the numbers to be used for redrawing state and local legislative districts by March 30. The requested deadline extensions would push back the apportionment deadline to April 30 for Congress, and to July 31 for state and local districts.

The politics of these decisions are clear. Trump no longer wants a deadline extension, and he doesn’t want undocumented residents counted at all.

The timing of Trump’s memorandum excluding the undocumented and his abandonment of the request to push back the reporting deadlines suggests that the White House wants to ensure that the numbers are undercounted. Also, that Trump  receives the apportionment numbers while he’s still in office so they can be fixed if necessary.

House Democrats are wary of what they see as Trump’s attempts to politicize the 2020 census, and want the Senate Republicans to approve the request for deadline extensions. That would mean there’s a chance the final months of the data-crunching would take place under a Biden administration, assuming Biden defeats Trump in November.

Staying on the usual deadline probably means that many people, documented or not, won’t be counted. Only about 63% of Americans have been counted so far. That means about 55 million households haven’t responded, and will require visits by census takers.

The Census Bureau is about to send its 500,000 door-knockers out to begin surveying households that haven’t yet answered the questionnaire, and Pew Research says it will be difficult to get them to open their doors:

“Among those who say they have not participated in the census, 40% say they would not be willing to talk to a census worker who came to the door…”

The 40% breaks down into 16% who say they’re unwilling to talk to the Census people at all, and 24% say they are not very willing to speak with them.

So, what does it all mean for apportioning Congressional seats?

The job is to use the census data to equitably assign the House’s 435 seats to the 50 states. The first 50 seats are automatically assigned, one per state. A series of formulas called the method of Equal Proportions is used to divide up the remaining 385 seats among the states on the basis of their populations. The method of Equal Proportions was first used to apportion House seats in 1940 and has been used ever since.

The apportionment population of a state is defined as all persons residing in the state as of April 1, plus all American military and civilian personnel of the federal government and their dependents from that state who were residing abroad.

At the last census in 2010, the states receiving the largest number of seats were California with 53; Texas with 36 seats, and then Florida and New York with 27 apiece. Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming each received only one seat, the one they are granted automatically.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia did a preliminary estimate of how the House seats will be distributed once the 2020 census is in. It obviously is a projection, but the results are shown on this map:

Of the 10 states projected to lose one House seat each in 2020, only two are red states. Of the seven states projected to gain House seats in 2020, six are red states.

If the 2020 apportionment followed Trump’s plan to exclude undocumented immigrants, this would be the outcome:

Eight states will lose nine seats with California leading the way. Seven of the eight seats lost would be in blue states.

Seven states would gain nine seats: Texas and Florida would gain two each. Six of the gains would be in red states.

Remember that a state’s votes in the Electoral College are equal to its seats in Congress. It’s not hard to see why Trump wants an undercount that favors Texas and Florida.

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terence mckenna

My wife and a brother worked for the census bureau on surveys other than the 10 year census. The US has been a scrupulous recorder of data and this data is blended with other data to derive useful info about all sorts of thing whether GDP or the numbers of folks who have been impacted by crime. The work is scrupulous, thorough and unbiased. All this is changing. I suggest that the new Congress rejects the data and mandates a recount – given what happened. But if not, it remains a shame. We were once a world leader, now we are an embarrassment.

wrongologist

A recount is a great idea. Not a Constitutional lawyer, but it looks like the Constitution gives Congress the power to do just that.

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