Bill attempts to prevent political meddling in US head count

New questions on a census form would have to be vetted by Congress and a U.S. Census Bureau director couldn’t be fired without cause under proposed legislation that attempts to prevent in the future the type of political interference into the nation’s 2020 head count that took place during the Trump administration.

The legislation introduced this week in the U.S. House of Representatives would put in place roadblocks against attempted political meddling in the once-a-decade census that determines how many congressional seats each state gets and the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year, according to U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the bill’s sponsor.

““The census is a foundation of American democracy, and it must be protected from partisan interference,” said Maloney, the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which was holding a hearing on the bill Thursday.

In the years leading up to the 2020 census, the Trump administration unsuccessfully tried to add a citizenship question to the census questionnaire, a move that advocates feared would scare off Hispanics and immigrants from participating, whether they were in the country legally or not. The Supreme Court blocked the question.

The Trump administration also unsuccessfully tried to get the Census Bureau to exclude people in the country illegally from population figures used for divvying up congressional seats among the states, also called the apportionment numbers.

Critics claimed the citizenship question was inspired by a Republican redistricting expert who believed using citizen voting-age population instead of the total population for the purpose of redrawing of congressional and legislative districts could be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.

The Trump administration pushed to have the apportionment numbers released before President Donald Trump left the White House in January 2021, cutting short the schedule for field operations that had been extended because of the pandemic. The bill would vest the Census Bureau director with all technical, operational and statistical decisions for the once-a-decade census.

The Trump administration named an unusually high number of political appointees without prior experience in the statistical agency to top positions in the Census Bureau. The proposed legislation would limit the number of political appointees to three: the Census Bureau director and two others positions. All other positions would have to be filled by career civil service workers, including the position of a deputy director, who would be required to have knowledge or experience with the Census Bureau.

Even though many of the Trump administration’s political efforts ultimately failed, some advocates believe they did have an impact, with significantly larger undercounts of most racial and ethnic minorities in the 2020 census compared to the 2010 census.

The Black population in the 2020 census had a net undercount of 3.3%, while it was almost 5% for Hispanics and 5.6% for American Indians and Native Alaskans living on reservations. Those identifying as some other race had a net undercount of 4.3%.

___

Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.