The 2020 Census Could Be Garbage

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

President Trump’s next trick may be to make millions of Californians disappear, at least according to records.

The Trump administration has begun an effort to sabotage the 2020 census, in ways that will result in an undercount in California, particularly in rural immigrant communities.

The addition of a citizenship question – a controversy that has been highly publicized – is actually one piece of this effort. The Trump administration has abandoned earlier preparations and plans for the sentence, and is not doing the full scale dress rehearsal for the 2020 census that has been done before other census.

This means that children, immigrants, rural folks, and people in new homes or new construction are likely to get missed.

Then there is the issue of public trust. Do you trust the Trump Administration to guard your data, especially if you’re an immigrant or a person of questionable legal status?

Recent emails and other documents on the census suggest that little about these census changes are unintentional. And it seems likely that the work product of the 2020 census could be garbage.

And that is not just an issue for reporters and scholars like me, who rely on census data. It could create a political and constitutional crisis for the country.

For one thing, the census is supposed to count everyone, according to the constitution; this census won’t. And census data is used to apportion House seats to states. An undercount would likely cost California a House seat. It also could cost us big money – allowing the Trump administration to do via census what it hasn’t been able to do with unconstitutional attempts to steal federal funding from California.

This would create an epic battle, with litigation, defiance, and perhaps uglier conflict. A Republican Party that stole a Supreme Court seat would stand accused, with justification, of stealing a House seat. The country would be pushed further to the breaking point.

It’s time for Congress and the courts to step in and take back control of the census from the Trumpists.

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