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Census – Citizenship Question

By: Melodie Janya

The United States Constitution requires a census count every ten years. “It is mandated by Article 1, Section 2” (1). This is done to establish the total number of residents within the nation. 2020 marks the year of the next mandated census. The resultant population numbers help determine the distribution of federal, state, and local funds based on population data. Simply stated, the system needs to hold a valid body count to solicit funding for specific areas.

“The first census in 1790 was managed under the direction of Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State. Marshals took the census in the original 13 states plus the districts of Kentucky, Maine, and Vermont, and the Southwest Territory (Tennessee). Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was nominal supervisor of the census on Census Day, August 2, 1790” (2). The collected data specified the name of the head of household, numbers of persons in that household along with familial ties, gender, race, and the numbers of owned slaves. [Note the distinction of slaves as a separate category of humans in which gender and race do not appear to be required.]

Over the many decades, populations change and altering cultures may require other types of information. To stem the variation without a means to weigh its addition, policies directing change were mandated. The government instituted a period of five years, to present and discuss the requested change, was necessary to insure the validity of the information and the reasons for its introduction. “Adding a question or making a change to the American Community Survey involves extensive testing, review, and evaluation over a 5-year period. This ensures the change is necessary and will produce quality, useful information for the nation” (3). This is evidenced in the timeline provided below. [Additional information to explain each section can be found at the hyperlink 3.]

The process for submitting changes to census questions.

The process for submitting changes to census questions.

The current concern with the coming 2020 census is the introduction of a citizenship question which has not gone through the prescribed process as is shown in the provided illustration. To best understand we need to look at a little history, some of which is quite recent: Dwindling reading.

People no longer desire to read through extensive government forms. A short form of the U.S. Census was introduced in 1970. On the short form the question of citizenship was removed; a larger form, including the citizenship question was provided to a smaller sampling of the populace. (4) It was determined that many persons were not even completing the longer form because of not having legal status. Nonetheless, the government still needed to find a means to determine how many people were living in the United States. The omission of the question did raise the amount of returned information.

 This brings us to the present; the return of the citizenship question as an addition to the short form which goes to the majority of the populace. It is presented that the question is a move toward redistricting voting locations in an effort to “clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats and advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites" (5).  The information comes from data discovered on Thomas Hofeller’s, deceased GOP strategist’s, hard drive. Hofeller’s 2015 study clearly explained the reasoning behind its inclusion as a means by which the Republican Party could enhance political control (6). Despite previous information stating the citizenship question discouraged achieving the most correct census numbers.

As of Thursday, June 13, another item was presented to the highest court to consider new evidence regarding the citizenship question. ‘The new material, the filing added, ‘strongly suggests’ that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ ‘real rationale [for asking about citizenship] was the diametric opposite of the stated reason: not to protect minority rights through better enforcement of the [Voting Rights Act], but to facilitate a partisan advantage in redistricting and to dilute the electoral influence of voters of color.’ (7).

The citizenship question is now seated with the Supreme Court. We await its reply.

References

(1) para. 1, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census/2020-census/about.html

 (2) para. 4, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census/2020-census/about/history.html

 (3) para. 2, https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/visualizations/2017/comm/acs-questions.pdf

 (4) https://www.npr.org/2018/03/27/597436512/fact-check-has-citizenship-been-a-standard-census-question

(5) para. 1, https://www.axios.com/census-citizenship-question-disadvantage-democrats-cf087a65-89e2-4a30-973c-7dcf79e03b3c.html

(6) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/30/us/census-citizenship-question-hofeller.html

(7) para. 4, https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/a-new-move-to-head-off-citizenship-question-on-census

Charles Uffelman