The Trump administration will do whatever it takes to politicize the 2020 Census

By George Hornedo, Senior Policy Advisor, Let America Vote

An unlikely front has opened up in recent months in the battle for voting rights: the 2020 U.S. Census.

As we’ve written before, the Trump administration is trying to politicize the census, threatening to undermine the critical data it produces and shortchange communities across the country.

In recent weeks, we’ve begun to see the ridiculous lengths the administration is willing to go to achieve those goals.

We’ll get to that in a second, but first let’s take a step back. What is the U.S. Census and why is it important?

Founded in 1902, the U.S. Census Bureau is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, with a director is appointed by the president. According to its website, the bureau’s mission is to “serve as the nation’s leading provider of quality data about its people and the economy.”

It does this primarily by conducting the U.S. Census every ten years — that is, a fair and accurate headcount of everyone — citizen or otherwise — living in the United States. This count determines the allocation of seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives. That’s huge in and of itself, but census data and related surveys also help allocate over $400 billion in federal funds every year and provides crucial data for state and local decisions on community and infrastructure development, provision of services and more.

Clearly, the U.S. Census is a critical dataset, and one that must be as accurate and apolitical as possible. So what’s the Trump Administration trying to do with it?

Like with everything else in the voting rights realm, Trump and Republicans are trying to politicize and weaponize the U.S. Census, with the goal of diluting their opponents’ political power while concentrating their own. They’re doing this by attempting to add a question about residents’ citizenship status to the 2020 Census.

We wrote at length earlier this year about how a citizenship question will

  1. drive down participation in the U.S. Census;
  2. skew Congressional representation in some states;
  3. cost taxpayers more money; and
  4. skew the allocation of federal grants and resources.

And, by the way, it will not help enforce the federal Voting Rights Act, as its proponents claim.

That’s why Let America Vote signed onto three amicus briefs in lawsuits challenging the citizenship question in New York and California. We also joined more than 300 organizations in signing onto letters calling for the relevant House and Senate committees to hold oversight hearings on the matter.

Those cases are where the action is now happening on this critical issue.

In one, a federal judge in New York has ordered top administration officials — including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights John Gore — to be deposed as part of a lawsuit brought by 17 states. Now, as expected, the Trump Administration is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block both these court-ordered depositions along with related document requests.

So here’s where we’re at: the Trump administration has introduced a nakedly political question to the constitutionally-mandated U.S. Census that will have real, dire effects on the validity of the national headcount. A bad census count will skew political representation and resource allocations across the country.

Rather than backing down and withdrawing this asinine question — or even agreeing to a minimal level of honesty and transparency about its motivations  — the administration is instead appealing to the Supreme Court for a pass on its shenanigans.

Adding the citizenship question to the U.S. Census represents a clear threat to voting rights and the livelihood of our communities. Too much is at stake to sit by and let it happen and so the fight continues. Join us in taking action by texting CENSUS to 44939.