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OUR VIEWS

Census safe from political tampering for now

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Sunday, July 14, 2019

With so many issues dividing the nation, maybe it shouldn’t be unexpected that the upcoming 2020 Census would be soiled by partisan tinkering to include a citizenship question.

On the surface, it may sound like a harmless recommendation to know how many people living in America are actually citizens and how many are not. Yet, harmless is not the objective at all, nor would it have been the result, since adding the question would very likely skew the census data affecting millions of Americans for the next decade — and for scant public gain in knowing how many are or are not citizens. There are far better reasons for why the census should be left out of the partisan bickering.

Americans participate in democracy by working, voting, defending, consuming, paying taxes, parenting, volunteering and numerous other activities. Participation also requires, every decade, sitting down and completing the very important process of census-taking. The census is necessary to preserve and support our institutions and way of life. An accurate count of the population, living patterns, income variations, gender and racial trends and a whole lot more provide a wealth of data for planning and supporting both economic and human development. And through the input of census data, critical decisions are made — more that just carving out the size and human composition of voting districts — affecting all Americans.

Hence, heavy census participation should be encouraged as part of a public responsibility necessary for accuracy and the efficient functioning of our local communities as well as our federal and state agencies. For instance, precise counts on population trends enable appropriate funding allocations to operate programs in cities and states. A city whose population in 2010 was 50,000 and which in 2020 has grown to 75,000 may require adjustments to federal and state program funding to accommodate the impact and needs of new residents. Similarly, when populations decline, the reverse effect on funding support and planning is also necessary.

Among other benefits, data will show how many citizens live above and below the poverty line, their education levels and how many children are living in their households who may need education, food and medical care. The more accurate the count, the more efficiently taxpayer dollars can be allocated — or saved.

Americans are a living, moving, transitioning human landscape. Accordingly, the 10-year census is needed to define a timely picture of what is happening in the general population — and that includes both citizens and non-citizens who are living here.

But used for more nefarious, partisan reasons — like adding the citizenship question — is more likely to result in many people, fearing repercussions if they are not citizens, not participating in the census. Most affected would be Hispanic residents, subject of the current immigration upheaval, who typically lean toward support for Democrats.

Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court last month rejected partisan efforts to add a citizenship question to the upcoming census. The court saw right through Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ (and the Trump administration’s) reasoning for adding the question — that it enforces the Voting Rights Act. Short of calling that a lie, the court referenced Ross’ reasoning as “contrived” and “a distraction” from the actual motivations. The court prudently sided with plaintiffs challenging the question as a measure that was intended largely to feed a bigoted-driven, divisive agenda by seeking to identify communities with large non-citizen, Hispanic populations and in doing so punish those communities and Democrats.

Even after the court decision, Trump continued to rant and support efforts to add the question; at least he did until Thursday, when he agreed to leave the census alone. Instead, he now wants to ramp up efforts among other federal agencies to identify non-citizens and where they live.

For now, the 2020 Census is safe, which is a victory for the public. Rejecting partisan interests, the court decision helps secure the true census mission of gaining an accurate count and providing for the needs of all Americans.

Barring further administration shenanigans, it should remain so.