Getting A Consensus On The Census

Joyce Coates
Enterprise Staff
For the first time, households can complete the 10-year census entirely online; of course, depending on access to the internet. For others, census enumerators will come knocking on doors. Yet, this is not the reason the format of the 2020 Census became so controversial.
A political storm arose when Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced March 26, 2018 that all 2020 Census forms sent to 330 million people in more than 140 million households would include citizenship questions. He said doing so would help the Department of Justice comply with the Voting Rights Act by providing a better count of voting age citizens. 
Almost immediately, New York, California and Maryland, as well as several cities, counties and groups of individuals, mostly in “blue states,” filed lawsuits. Three federal district courts ruled against the Trump Administration which took its case, Department of Commerce vs. New York, to the Supreme Court. The Court heard oral arguments on April 23 this year and reached its decision on June 27. 
Chief Justice Roberts surprised and disappointed conservatives to join with liberals for a 5-4 decision against the Commerce Department.
Opponents claimed that a citizenship question will “fatally undermine” and “cause tremendous harms” in their jurisdictions, and “jeopardize” accuracy of the count. They noted that even officials of the Census Bureau advised against adding the questions. People in “immigrant communities,” they contended, will not complete the census because they fear what law enforcement will do with the information. 
Federal law prohibits, and the Census Bureau enforces, the 72-year rule that keeps all personally identifying information confidential, not disclosing it even to the FBI. In compliance with the rule, the 1940 census is the most recent one released to the public with such information.
“There is no harm in protecting the identity of the non-citizens that report to the census, it will give a more accurate count as to the total population, counting citizens and non-citizens,” said Rick Renno, on behalf of Benton County Republicans. “Our position is that the census is designed to count the individuals in the country legally, whether they are citizens or non-citizens. We urge all residents to pursue legal status in our country,” he added.
For local communities, census data determines state legislative, school district and voting precinct boundaries. Opponents believe a citizenship question will result in a significant undercount and jeopardize federal funding for social programs distributed to states, local governments and grantees, currently some 900 billion dollars. 
“As far as the census goes, it is very important to a school district to have the right kind of information when it comes to demographics,” said Shawn Poyser, superintendent of Warsaw R-IX school district. “We must plan, short term and long term, for facilities, staff, and enrollment projections
The 2010 Census asked only 10 demographic questions on a single short form sent to all households. Since 1950 the short form has not included any citizenship questions. The long form from 1910 until 2010 included them, yet only for the sampling of households that received it. A similar controversy surrounded the 2010 Census.
On August 9, 2009, ahead of the 2010 count, The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece, “Our Unconstitutional Census,” wherein authors, John Baker and Elliott Stonecipher complained that although only citizens and legal residents should be counted, large numbers of illegals would also be counted and result in unfair reapportionments. They feared especially that California and Texas would gain undeserved seats. In fact, after the census, California saw no increase, although Texas gained 4 districts. As projected, Missouri lost one district, as did 9 other states when a total of 12 districts were reapportioned nationwide.  
Myrna Perez, writing for the Brennan Center on August 11, 2009, insisted that the Constitution’s Enumeration Clause in Article I, Section 2, Para.3, does not use the words “citizens” or “legal residents,” but rather states that apportionment is based on “respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State.” She quotes the first sentence of Section 2, as revised by the Fourteenth Amendment ratified July 9, 1868, but not the second sentence that sheds more light on the intentions of the first. 
But when the right to vote in any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States …the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in each State.
The Nineteenth Amendment ratified August 18, 1920 gave women the right to vote but did not change the wording as to citizens. The 26th Amendment ratified July 1, 1971 mentioned specifically “…the right of citizens … who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote…”.
Some may argue that because representatives themselves must be citizens, those counted for purposes of apportionment of the districts they represent should also be citizens. Nevertheless, some argue that apportionment should be based on all residents regardless of legal status.
In any case, citizenship questions are not new. They are and have been part of the annual American Community Survey (ACS) since it was introduced in 1996. That year, the ACS counted only four counties but in less than a decade it became “the cornerstone of the U.S. Census Bureau’s effort … for … data about population and housing characteristics.” Since full implementation in 2005, the ACS collects population and housing data from 3.5 million randomly selected households in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Question No. 8 of the 2019 ACS asks, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” “Yes” for persons born in the U.S. or its territories, or born abroad of citizen parents, or naturalized. “NO” if not a citizen.
Renno says “the census was designed to measure the population of the United States, both citizens and non-citizens; political representation to be based on citizen population and federal programs designed to the help poor and underprivileged based on total number of residents.” 
Benton County’s total population (2017) of 19,074 includes about 114 foreign-born, of whom 55 are non-citizens. The breakdown by city:  Lincoln: 4 non-citizens among 33 foreign-born; Cole Camp – 8 foreign-born, all non-citizens; Warsaw: 4 foreign-born – 0 non-citizens. Statewide, Missouri has 13.4 percent foreign-born residents among whom 51.9 percent are non-citizens.
The National Association of Counties (NACO) encourages counties to set up volunteer-run committees to educate their communities about the importance of filling out the census form. NACO supports the lesser known American Community Survey because ACS data is released annually, while census data is released every decade; ACS collects a wider array of data, which is not captured in the census; and, many federal agencies use both decennial census and ACS data to allocate funds and determine eligibility for counties and other entities.
For now, the Supreme Court’s decision barred the citizenship questions, at least temporarily, and remanded the case to the district court. Justice Roberts said Secretary Ross’s reason for adding the questions was “contrived,” and did not meet the standards of the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946. The Act prescribes how rules and regulations are to be made. Ross has an opportunity to provide new information to the district court, and President Trump has asked that Commerce delay the 2020 Census if necessary (and possible legally), to ensure the court receives the justification it requires. 
Meanwhile, Renno points to direct benefits to Benton County of accurate census numbers: “funding for medical facilities, education facilities, senior and veteran care, and many other programs tied directly to the population.”