Will Trump Succeed in Shortchanging the Count?

Nope, not the votes. The Census.

Article I, Section 2, of the US Constitution requires the federal government to enumerate the country’s population once every ten years. The census counts every person living in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the five US territories, as well as military and civilian employees of the federal government living abroad, together with their dependents.

While the law permits the Census Bureau to collect detailed information, the 2020 Census form is highly abbreviated, requiring only a few minutes to complete.

Even so, due in part to the Coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 census count is behind. By August 20, across the United States as a whole, 72.8% of households had responded, while Arizona lags with a 65% response rate.

Why is it important to ensure a complete and accurate count? Census results are used to:

1. Allocate billions of federal dollars for public services and infrastructure, including healthcare, social services, education, housing, transportation, rural assistance, pollution control, and even wildlife conservation; and

2. Determine the number of seats that each state will have in the US House of Representatives, and also to draw congressional and state legislative district boundaries.

It should thus come as no surprise that the Trump Administration has seized upon the 2020 census count as an opportunity to manipulate the outcome to disadvantage Blue states that happen to have large tribal, minority, and immigrant communities.  

First, on July 21, notwithstanding the constitutional requirement to count “whole number of persons in each state,” Trump ordered undocumented immigrants (which he refers to as “illegal aliens”) excluded from the census headcount that serves as the basis for congressional reapportionment. Several federal lawsuits have been filed challenging the constitutionality of Trump’s directive.

Trump’s directive follows upon his earlier failed efforts to exclude undocumented immigrants altogether from the census, which the US Supreme Court struck down. Following his defeat in court, Trump ordered the development of a database, drawing from data collected and maintained across federal agencies, that could be used to identify undocumented immigrants. It is unlikely that such a database would be either complete or accurate. Without question, Trump’s actions have the effect of suppressing the count of immigrants and their families.

Second, the Trump Administration caught many people off guard on August 3rd when it abruptly announced that it will end all counting efforts by September 30, one full month early. This maneuver – which includes door-knocking as well as online, telephone, and mail-in data collection – disproportionately impacts Native American tribes, people of color, immigrants and their families, renters, rural residents, and other historically undercounted groups who are not likely to fill out forms or respond on their own, but who rely upon field worker outreach to complete their reports.

Trump’s deliberate sabotage of the census count will have two devastating impacts. First, for every individual who is not counted, their community will lose thousands of dollars in federal funding each year for the next ten years. For Arizona, that estimate comes in at $3,000 per person each year for the next ten years. Thus, communities most in need of federal assistance will be the least likely to receive it.

Second, the more minority individuals counted in a given area, the more likely they will be kept together within congressional and state legislative districts during redistricting, which will give them a stronger voice in Congress and state legislatures. The fewer individuals counted, the more likely their communities will be divided up and gerrymandered, diluting their representation.

Further, two University of Virginia demographers project that if Trump succeeds in excluding undocumented immigrants from congressional reapportionment, the Blue states California and New Jersey and near-swing state Texas would likely lose one congressional seat each, while Alabama, Minnesota, and Ohio, Red states or states that Trump hopes to turn red, would likely gain one seat each.


Before Wednesday, September 30, Take the US Census:

(1) Online at https://my2020census.gov;

(2) By telephone by dialing (844) 330-2020 (English), (844) 468-2020 (Spanish), and (844) 467-2020 (TDD – Telephone Directory Display); or

(3) By completing and mailing back the paper questionnaire that was sent to your home.

The Census Bureau provides language support in 59 non-English languages, including Navajo and American Sign Language, as well as in Braille and large print. Individuals can also complete the census online or by telephone in 12 non-English languages.

Post the link to the 2020 Census webpage on your websites and social media pages, and share it on your neighborhood and other group pages.

Email, telephone, and talk with your family, friends, and contacts to remind them to complete and return their census questionnaires.

Post Census flyers and posters on community bulletin boards.


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