Richmond Times-Dispatch

Some census workers were told to fake data to wrap up the count

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The texts from an Alabama census supervisor had an urgent tone. “THIS JUST IN,” one of them began. It then laid out how census takers should fake data to mark households as having only one resident even if they had no idea how many people actually lived there.

The goal of the texts from October, obtained by The Associated Press, was to check off as many households as possible on the list of homes census takers were supposed to visit because residents never had filled out census questionna­ires.

The supervisor wanted the census takers to finalize cases — without interviewi­ng households— as the Trump administra­tion waged a legal battle to end the once-a-decade head count early.

The texts are the latest evidence suggesting census accuracy was sacrificed for speed as census takers and supervisor­s rushed to complete the head count last month.

Critics contend the schedule was shortened by two weeks so the Trump administra­tion could enforce a presidenti­al order excluding people in the country illegally from the numbers used for apportionm­ent of congressio­nal districts.

The texted instructio­ns said that if two failed attempts were made to interview members of the households, along with two unsuccessf­ul tries to interview landlords or neighbors about the homes’ residents, then the census takers should mark that a single person lived there.

“You are to clear the case indicating occupied by 1,” said the text from the census supervisor in the small city of Dothan, Ala.

The texts were shared with the AP by a census taker from Florida who traveled to Alabama among groups of enumerator­s dispatched to areas lagging behind in the count. The existence of the texts suggests that falsificat­ion of census data might be more widespread than previously known.

The census taker who provided the texts asked for anonymity because of privacy concerns and said she refused to follow the texted guidance because she thought doing so would falsify data. She declined to name the supervisor, who was identified only by her first name in screenshot­s of the texts seen by the AP.

The U.S. Census Bureau has denied any attempts were made to systemical­ly falsify informatio­n during the 2020 census, which is vital to determinin­g the allocation of congressio­nal seats and federal spending. But the AP has chronicled similar instructio­ns sent to census takers in other U.S. regions.

Census Bureau spokesman Michael Cook said the agency is investigat­ing the Alabama case and has not identified any data irregulari­ties. When there appear to be problems with data collection, the bureau can take steps

such as revisiting households to improve accuracy, he said.

“We take falsificat­ion allegation­s very seriously,” Cook said.

More than two dozen census takers and supervisor­s have contacted the AP since the beginning of the month, telling similar stories about corners cut in the rush to close cases as the Trump administra­tion sought to end the census before the Oct. 31 deadline set in response to the pandemic.

Themost recent cases also include a census supervisor in Baltimore who said that thousands of addresses were manually marked completed without evidence that residents had been interviewe­d.

The Alabama supervisor included in her text a photo of her handwritte­n instructio­ns listing the 15 steps she said would allow the census takers to mark in their bureau-issued iPhones that only one person lived in a home without interviewi­ng anyone about the household’s demographi­c makeup or the number of people living there.

The supervisor also recommende­d performing the steps two to three hours after trying to interview members of a household to avoid arousing suspicions from higher-ups who could track where census takers had been through their iPhones.

The instructio­ns for the census takers in Alabama were sent a week before the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administra­tion could end field operations for the census on Oct. 15 instead of Oct. 31.

The Census Bureau has said it compiled informatio­n for 99.9% of U.S. households in the U.S. during field operations. At the height of the door-knocking phase of the census in mid-August, there were more than 285,000 temporary census takers on the payroll.

In Baltimore, census supervisor Amanda Colianni said she thinks 5,300 cases in neighborho­ods she managed were closed prematurel­y and removed from the door-knocking effort after only one attempt to interview members of households. The Census Bureau was working toward what officials thought at the time would be an Oct. 5 early finish for the count.

Colianni said she does not know why the cases were removed or how they were resolved, though she says it’s possible that government administra­tive records

were used to fill in the informatio­n gaps when detailed records from the IRS, the Social Security Administra­tion or other agencies existed for the households.

An outside census advisory group warned this month that filling in large numbers of households with administra­tive data late in the census process suggests no high-quality data existed for the addresses. If that had been the case, the group said, it would have been used earlier to save census takers time.

“I know the management level in Baltimore was trying to push, push, push to get everything done,” Colianni said.

Colianni filed statements with the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and a coalition of local government­s and advocacy groups that have sued the Trump administra­tion over its attempts to shorten the 2020 census schedule.

The coalition’s case led to the Supreme Court decision allowing the Trump administra­tion to end the head count.

The coalition’s lawsuit in San Jose, Calif., said the deadline for finishing the count was changed from the end of October to the end of September to ensure that number-crunching for the census would take place while Trump was still in office, no matter the outcome of the presidenti­al race.

That could guarantee the enforcemen­t of an order Trump issued in July seeking to exclude people living in the country illegally from numbers used to determine congressio­nal seat distributi­on.

Trump’s order has been found unlawful by courts in New York, California and Maryland. The Justice Department is appealing.

Whether the Census Bureau canmeet a Dec. 31 deadline for turning in the apportionm­ent numbers to Trump is in jeopardy after the agency said Thursday it found anomalies in the data during the numbers-crunching phase.

Lawyers for the coalition have said they have documented other cases of census takers being instructed to cut corners and fudge numbers in order to close cases.

“Shortening data-processing operations will prevent the Bureau from finding and fixing these errors, as the Bureau itself has acknowledg­ed,” their lawsuit said.

 ?? THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Amanda Colianni, a census field supervisor in Baltimore, said she thinks 5,300 cases in neighborho­ods she managedwer­e closed prematurel­y and removed from the door- knocking effort after only one attempt.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Amanda Colianni, a census field supervisor in Baltimore, said she thinks 5,300 cases in neighborho­ods she managedwer­e closed prematurel­y and removed from the door- knocking effort after only one attempt.

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