In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race. The census, of course, shapes reapportionment and redistricting.
A “perfect storm” is threatening the 2020 census, says Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former staff director for the House Subcommittee on Census and Population. Budget cuts enacted by the Trump administration and the Republican Congress forced the bureau to cancel crucial field tests in 2017 and 2018. The bureau’s director resigned last June, and the administration has yet to name a full-time director or deputy director. The next census will also be the first to rely on the internet. The Census Bureau will mail households a postcard with instructions on how to fill out the form online; if they don’t respond, it will send field-workers, known as enumerators, to knock on their doors. But in an effort to save money, there will be 200,000 fewer enumerators than in 2010, increasing the likelihood that households without reliable internet access will go uncounted. Enumerators will carry tablets instead of paper forms, and the reliance on technology raises cybersecurity fears in the wake of high-profile hacks and foreign election interference.
“They’re putting together the census under a pall of uncertainty,” says Kenneth Prewitt, who directed the 2000 census. “How much money, who’s going to be in charge, what are we going to do on the core questionnaire itself? To do that under such a level of uncertainty is literally unprecedented.”
And then, on Monday night, the Trump administration dropped the biggest bombshell of all. The Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, announced that it would include a question about US citizenship on the census for the first time since 1950. Civil rights groups say the move will cause immigrants, particularly undocumented ones, to avoid responding to the census for fear of being reported to immigration authorities. The result will be a massive undercount of the Latino population, leading to reduced political power and federal resources for places like Fresno. The state of California, which has the country’s largest immigrant population, quickly filed a lawsuit against the administration over the question.