Brennan Center outlines 2020 Census challenges
By Mark Hedin, Ethnic Media Services
In June last year, the Supreme Court ended the Trump administration’s plan to ask all
2020 Census respondents about their citizenship status.
But with the first month of census-taking almost complete, it’s clear that the court ruling
hasn’t undone the damage caused by even proposing the question be added.
Although the Census Bureau has not yet analyzed 2020’s ethnicity response
rates, research two weeks in (https://tinyurl.com/CUNYstudyWeek2), when the national
response rate was in the low 40% range, found predominantly Hispanic census tracts
were at 30.5%, the lowest of population groups studied. Predominantly African
American tracts were at 35%, Asian American-dominated tracts at 41%, and
predominantly non-Hispanic white tracts 42.5%.
In an April 20 discussion, “The Fight for a Fair Count: Keeping the 2020 Census on
Track,” attorney Thomas Wolf of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program
cited December findings by the Urban
Institute (https://tinyurl.com/UrbanInstituteCensusReport) that almost 70% of adult
respondents still believed the nine-question 2020 Census
form(https://tinyurl.com/QuestionsOn2020Census) would include one about citizenship.
And almost as many expected it “somewhat, extremely or very likely” that authorities
would use answers to find people living in the United States without documentation.
The Brennan Center for Justice event also included Janai Nelson from the NAACP
Legal Defense Fund and Adriel Derieux of the ACLU Voting Rights Project.
The once-every-10-years census controls more than $1.5 trillion of annual federal
spending (https://tinyurl.com/CensusDataSpendingReport) and determines people’s
voice in government. It does NOT include a question about citizenship or allow police,
border or immigration officials, or any other government agencies to use anyone’s
personal information from the census.
“That’s a nonexistent threat,” Nelson said. “The larger risk is from not being counted.”
Wolf also cited the report’s findings on how likely people are to fill out the census
questionnaire. In 2010, the response rate was 72%. For this census, a majority (77.2%)
said they likely would respond, and among those age 50-64, it was 86.9%.
But for those 18-34, it was 67.3%, even worse than the 69.1% of households that
include a noncitizen, in which 12% said they definitely or probably would avoid being
Among white non-Hispanics, 81.5% said they were likely to respond. The percentage
among those identifying as Hispanic was 71%, among black non-Hispanics 73.3%, and
for other races, or those of multiple non-Hispanic ethnicities, 65.6%.
The nation as a whole has now passed the 50% response
rate (https://tinyurl.com/CensusBureauReport). That’s about 10% behind where it was at
this point in 2010, so the Census Bureau is at least on board to attain what it once
deemed its “worst-case scenario” in terms of a low response rate, Wolf said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit 2020 Census plans hard. Plans to reach so-called
“hard-to-count” communities have been delayed or altered, and the Census Bureau is
also seeking extra time to compile data for use in redrawing political boundaries and
reapportioning seats in Congress.
The original deadline for being counted was July 31, but households now have until Oct.
31 to respond online, over the phone, by the traditional method of mailing back a
questionnaire, or via an “enumerator” sent to visit those who haven’t responded.
The Census Bureau has also delayed training and deploying the hundreds of
thousands of people to whom it offered enumerator jobs. Also, in early March, it
suspended after just four days its “Update/Leave” program sending staff to check
addresses and leave questionnaires where people are particularly hard to reach, for
instance, in tribal lands, or where people rely on Post Office boxes or are dealing with a
natural disaster, such as Puerto Rico.
Data the Census Bureau puts together from answered questionnaires determines the
need for more than 300 programs that help educate, feed, house, provide infrastructure
— and emergency services — for U.S. communities for the next 10 years.
Anonymous census data also is used to redefine a community, city, county or state’s
political boundaries. Different states have different procedures on how they go about
redistricting. Reapportionment, though, uses census data to decide how many members
of Congress each state gets — and the number of electoral college votes in
Each House seat is supposed to represent the same number of people. Currently it is
set at 750,000 per seat. After each state gets its one guaranteed House seat, the
remaining 385 seats are divided according to population. States the census finds have
growing populations gain representatives. States where fewer people are counted will
So if people aren’t counted, their communities don’t get a full voice in political
By 2045, Nelson of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said the United States is expected
to no longer be majority white, but “the popular vote is not reflected in our politics or our
representation. All that — political representation — relies on census counts.”
“Encouraging online response is important,” she said. “It’s the same as encouraging
voter registration. We need to make sure our friends and family understand. Go into
your phones, contact lists, send texts. … Do everything we can to encourage
participation while staying safe.”
The census, said ACLU Voting Rights Project’s Derieux, “is the stuff democracy is made
of. It can determine what our country looks like. It should reflect the growing diversity of
“Everyone counts,” Wolf said in conclusion. “When you’re able to stand up and be
counted, you have an opportunity to make government the way it should be.” ( IM )