Democ­racy un­der siege by ef­forts to keep you from be­ing counted in the Cen­sus

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION -

In nor­mal times, the Cen­sus Bu­reau might be en­tirely ca­pa­ble of count­ing every per­son liv­ing in the United States, fully and ac­cu­rately, and pre­sent­ing the fi­nal tally to the pres­i­dent by the last day of the year, as re­quired by law.

But th­ese are not nor­mal times. There is no end in sight for COVID-19, which has killed nearly 152,000 peo­ple and thrown the na­tion’s econ­omy into a record-break­ing free-fall. Tak­ing a com­plete cen­sus is a par­tic­u­larly daunt­ing chal­lenge dur­ing a pan­demic. You can imag­ine the dif­fi­culty of gath­er­ing data door-to-door, a cru­cial fi­nal step in the cen­sus process, at a time when many peo­ple won’t even an­swer the door.

It should be an easy call, then, for Congress to ex­tend the dead­line by four months for the Cen­sus Bu­reau to com­plete its work. And it would be an ou­trage if the door-to-door com­po­nent of the Cen­sus count were ac­tu­ally cut short — ended on Sept. 30 in­stead of Oct. 31 — as the bu­reau re­port­edly now plans.

The four-month ex­ten­sion of the Cen­sus Bu­reau’s dead­line should be in­cluded in the next coron­avirus eco­nomic stim­u­lus bill, as Democrats have called for. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s own hand-picked Com­merce Depart­ment chief, Wil­bur Ross, first re­quested the de­lay back in April.

Any quiet plan to cut back on door-knock­ers, as first re­ported Fri­day by Na­tional Public Ra­dio, should be dropped.

Po­lit­i­cal mo­tives

Our worry is that the White House ap­pears to be pres­sur­ing the Cen­sus Bu­reau to wrap up its count sooner rather than later for bald po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. Repub­li­cans fear a full and ac­cu­rate cen­sus count would re­sult in a reap­por­tion­ment of con­gres­sional dis­tricts in fa­vor of the Democrats. The GOP fears that an hon­est cen­sus would shift a greater por­tion of some $1.5 tril­lion in fed­eral fund­ing — for ev­ery­thing from Med­i­caid to schools to trans­porta­tion — to heav­ily Demo­cratic cities and states.

As it is, the Cen­sus Bu­reau al­ready has fallen be­hind in the count. Four out of 10 house­holds na­tion­wide still have not par­tic­i­pated, ac­cord­ing to a new Pew

Re­search Cen­ter study, and many Amer­i­cans say they are re­luc­tant to talk to out­reach work­ers. In Chicago, the city-wide cen­sus re­sponse rate so far is 55%, and the rate in some South and West Side neigh­bor­hoods is a mere 40%.

Cut­ting short the time al­lowed for door-knock­ing by cen­sus-tak­ers — at the homes of peo­ple who have been un­re­spon­sive to other count­ing ef­forts — could re­sult in a mas­sive un­der­count, in par­tic­u­lar, of peo­ple of color and im­mi­grants. Th­ese are groups that his­tor­i­cally have been un­der­counted to be­gin with.

In writ­ten tes­ti­mony sub­mit­ted on Wed­nes­day to a House com­mit­tee, for­mer Cen­sus Bu­reau Di­rec­tor John Thomp­son warned that the bu­reau would be forced to rely more on sta­tis­ti­cal meth­ods to es­ti­mate the data about peo­ple liv­ing in house­holds that cen­sus­tak­ers did not reach.

“The end re­sult would be [over­rep­re­sen­ta­tion] for the white nonHis­panic pop­u­la­tion and greater un­der­counts for all other pop­u­la­tions in­clud­ing the tra­di­tion­ally hard-to-count,” Thomp­son wrote.

‘Democ­racy un­der siege’

In a speech on Wed­nes­day, Mayor Lori Light­foot in­cluded threats to an ac­cu­rate cen­sus as one of the ways in which “our democ­racy is un­der siege.” She put it on the peo­ple of Chicago to do their part to keep that from hap­pen­ing — by par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Cen­sus on­line and an­swer­ing the door.

“If you don’t fill it out, you get left out,” Light­foot said. “If you are not counted, you give your power, you give your voice away, to some­one else. For us to be rep­re­sented, you need to be counted. For us to re­ceive our right­ful share of fed­eral fund­ing, you need to be counted.” We’d like to echo that mes­sage. If you have not done so al­ready, go on­line at 2020cen­sus.gov and fill out a cen­sus form. If a cen­sus­taker knocks at your door, open it.

Wear a mask, of course, and main­tain that 6 feet of so­cial dis­tanc­ing — as the cen­sus-taker will have been trained to do — but do your part.

Get counted.

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