The Census crisis

One March 26, Commerce Secretary Ross stated his decision to include a question on citizenship status in the 2020 census. The only reason he cited for the inclusion as a Department of Justice request for data at the census track level to determine if there have been voting violations, of non-citizens voting. “I have determined that reinstatement of a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census is necessary to provide complete and accurate data in response to the DOJ request. To minimize any impact on decennial census response rates, I am directing the Census Bureau to place the citizenship question last on the decennial census form.” And, “while there is widespread belief among many parties that adding a citizenship question could reduce response rates, the Census Bureau’s analysis did not provide definitive, empirical support for that belief.”

The prior week, the attorney general and secretary of state of California wrote that “The Constitution requires the government to conduct an “actual enumeration” of the total population, regardless of citizenship status. And since 1790, the census has counted citizens and noncitizens alike…California, with its large immigrant communities, would be disproportionately harmed by depressed participation in the 2020 census. An undercount would threaten at least one of California’s seats in the House of Representatives (and, by extension, an elector in the electoral college.) It would deprive California and its cities and counties of their fair share of billions of dollars in federal funds.”

The New York Times today reported, “critics of Mr. Ross’s decision made available a letter sent to Mr. Ross in January from six former directors of the Census Bureau who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The letter stated that they were “deeply concerned” that adding the citizenship question would “considerably increase the risks to the 2020 enumeration.”

“There is a great deal of evidence that even small changes in survey question order, wording and instructions can have significant, and often unexpected, consequences for the rate, quality and truthfulness of response,” said the former directors..,“The effect of adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census on data quality and census accuracy, therefore, is completely unknown.”

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