Fairness at Stake in the 2020 Census: Understanding the Citizenship Question
The consequences of an undercount are alarming. By leaving out the members of communities who were intimidated by the citizenship question, districts will be drawn inaccurately. Seemingly smaller in population, these areas will not be fairly represented in Congress, state legislatures, and municipal districts. Because fewer congressional seats will be assigned to those communities, people’s voices will be diminished.
GOP strategists have also indicated their intention to use the skewed citizenship question data to further gerrymander districts. At the state and local level, they might even attempt to draw districts based on the voting-age population, rather than the total population. On top of that, public services and programs from education to healthcare will be underfunded.
Because of these consequences, the state of New York sued the Department of Commerce over the citizenship question. The case, Department of Commerce v. New York, is being considered in the Supreme Court with a decision coming at some point this month.
There are some myths about the citizenship question that should be debunked. First, the purpose of the Census is to count the number of people living in the United States. Constitutionally, this number determines political representation and federal funding allocation, not the number of citizens or voters. Everyone has the right to representation, not just eligible voters.
Second, a Census without the citizenship question will not make non-citizens eligible to vote. There is absolutely no correlation between census data and who can and cannot register to vote.
Third, the government has access to information about eligible voters through other means, namely the American Communities Survey. Commerce has falsely argued that the citizenship question provides necessary data to enforce aspects of the Voting Rights Act, but those other sources have sufficed for decades.
It is evident that there was a partisan and racial motivation behind the inclusion of the question. Common Cause recently discovered documents revealing the intentions of Republican strategist Thomas Hofeller in encouraging the Trump Administration to make this change to the Census. According to the New York Times, “the disclosures represent the most explicit evidence to date that the Trump administration added the question to the 2020 census to advance Republican Party interests.”
The citizenship question is a threat to the democratic process. With representation and resources at stake, its inclusion in the 2020 Census would hurt communities that are already marginalized and underrepresented.
Take action today. Join a Complete Count Committee and raise awareness about the Census in your community. Call on your representatives to support the 2020 Census IDEA Act and add additional congressional oversight to the Census-writing process. Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision, we must all stand up and fight for a fair and accurate Census.