Opinion - How the Trump administration tries to skew democracy by attacking the census
When I was on the New York City Council, I used U.S. Census data to help me best represent my neighbors. The data allowed me to point to cold, hard facts when I was fighting for more funding, advocating for or against policies that would directly affect our community or writing legislation on behalf of everyone in the city.
The census provides us with irreplaceable data about our country. It helps to determine how more than $600 billion in annual federal funding is allocated. States and localities need accurate census data for everything from transportation priorities to education policies. Businesses of every size in every sector rely on accurate census data for nearly every strategic decision they make.
Most critically, the count of all residents of the United States also determines how many seats each state is allotted in the electoral college and the House. If that data is manipulated by deliberately undercounting specific communities, then our system of representative democracy is undermined.
That is why the census, its funding and its execution have always been a bipartisan, apolitical priority. That is, until the Trump administration took charge.
We are witnessing an unprecedented assault on the census. From day one, this administration has feared that demographic changes in the United States would harm the electoral prospects of the Republican Party. But rather than change its policies to have broader appeal, the Trump administration is trying to rig the count.
That is why the administration wants to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, has tried to deny the Census Bureau the funding it needs, has delayed the appointment of a census director and has blocked the hiring of noncitizens who are key to outreach efforts in immigrant communities where English is not the predominant language. Under this anti-immigrant administration, immigrants and their families — documented and undocumented — might fear completing a census form with a question about citizenship status at all. This fear will lead to an undercount.
The career professionals at the Census Bureau have expressed extreme worry about their ability to complete an accurate census under the Trump administration’s proposals. So have numerous outside experts. And it is now clear that the administration broke the law in its zeal to add a citizenship question.
In response to a consolidated set of legal cases brought by 18 states and the District, a federal judge on Tuesday directed the Trump administration to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 Census. The judge found the administration’s decision to add the questions to be “arbitrary and capricious” and agreed that “hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of people will go uncounted in the census if the citizenship question is included.” While this is an important victory, we expect this ruling to be appealed. That is why I’ve called on the administration to accept the court’s decision, remove the citizenship question from the 2020 Census and get to work supporting the hardworking professionals at the Census Bureau rather than obstructing them.
This matter, however, should not just be left up to the courts. As co-chair of the House Census Caucus and former chair of the census subcommittee, I have been working with Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) to make protecting the 2020 Census a top priority of the Democratic-led House. We are working to schedule a hearing on the census as soon as practicable. In past hearings, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross clearly misled Congress about the justifications for adding a citizenship question and its impact on census participation. Those statements must not go unchallenged, and we intend to put the administration on notice to expect rigorous oversight of its plans for the census. I am also reintroducing a bill, the 2020 Census Idea Act, to legislatively block the citizenship question.
While talking about data and its collection might not be the flashiest headline of the day, it is arguably one of, if not the, most important. Census data affects the very core of our democracy and how we decide representation in every level of government. This is no game.
That is why we cannot allow the census to be manipulated by politics. We have to make sure it is conducted by the nonpartisan bureau professionals who understand what it takes to orchestrate the largest and most digitally advanced census in our nation’s history.
Our democracy is at stake.