The Census: Stand Up and Be Counted

US Census

The clock is ticking on the 2020 U.S. Census. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the government recently moved the deadline to September 30, 2020.

This decision is a stunning reversal from an earlier pronouncement.

In April 2020, officials told Congress they needed until at least October 31 to ensure an accurate count.

Originally, the Census Bureau planned to operate field offices from March 12 to July 31. But the spring lockdowns hit in mid-March, suspending such activity until early May.

Congress’ refusal to move the December 31 final deadline probably contributed to the Census Bureau’s recent announcement.

Why Does the Census Matter?

In a very real way, the decennial census gives you a voice in the government, puts money in your pocket, and provides valuable information about who we are.

Congress takes the census information and reapportions the number of representatives that each state has in the House of Representatives.

By law, the total number is capped at 435. The Census determines where those representatives come from.

Each state has equal representation in the Senate. But in the House, representation is based on population.

Following the 2010 census, Texas gained four seats. New York lost two seats. Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New Jersey lost one seat each.

Observers predict that this trend will continue in 2020, as Texas is expected to gain seats and the tri-state area is expected to lose more seats.

One or two votes here or there can make an enormous difference.

We recently marked the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

This Amendment passed by one vote. That swing vote was 24-year-old Harry Burn, an obscure Tennessee lawmaker.

Burn had previously voted against ratification. But when his mother wrote him a note encouraging him to “be a good boy” and support female suffrage, he changed his vote, and changed history as well.

On a related note, state legislatures redraw legislative districts based on census numbers. This process has long been very controversial.

The people in power, be they Republicans or Democrats, often manipulate the lines so more like-minded lawmakers are elected.

This technique is called Gerrymandering. In 1812, Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry approved an electoral map which included one district that, according to some, resembled a dragon.

Furthermore, the Census distributes Medicare, food stamps, highway funds, and other federal money that’s based on an area’s population.

An inaccurate count means fewer jobs and unavailable benefits.

Finally, the Census is the best way to determine our makeup as a nation. The country is much more diverse today than it was a generation ago.

Decision makers in the public and private sector rely on accurate census data to craft programs which better serve our communities.

The Census and the Citizenship Question

This census is even more controversial than usual, largely because of the proposed citizenship question.

For many years, the Census included a citizenship question. But it was left out beginning in 1950. In 2018, President Donald Trump announced that he would include such a question in the 2020 Census. He argued that the change would more accurately count eligible voters and thus better enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Critics disagreed. They viewed the question as a way to frighten undocumented immigrants into not filling out the Census.

This dispute went all the way to the Supreme Court.

In June 2019, a sharply-divided Court ruled against Trump and said the citizenship question was illegal.

However, the Supremes opened a back door for the administration by saying that the question might be legal in another context. So, the fight continues. But, the 2020 Census does not have a citizenship question.

If you have not yet completed your 2020 Census questionnaire, the professional team at Napoli Shkolnik PLLC urges you to do so now.