The 2020 Census may impact people of color most. These GIFs break down why.
“…the data will be skewed to prevent [people of color] from achieving their voting rights.”
The Supreme Court just blocked the Trump administration’s proposal to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. At least for now.
The census — though just a few sheets of paper — matters a lot, particularly for people of color.
I’ll tell you why, taking this as an excuse to use GIFs outside of my group chat.
How does the census work?
The census is mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. It is (technically) mandatory to fill out, happens every 10 years, and is how we figure out just how many people live in these United States of America.
What did the Trump administration do?
By now, you’ve probably heard about the Trump Administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. This question would ask respondents to identify whether they are a citizen of the United States.
You see, this administration claims that adding the question would benefit minority communities.
They say the question upholds the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. In a 2018 testimony before Congress, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Barr even claimed that the question came from the justice department.
Here’s a 12-second history lesson for you:
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is legislation that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. It makes sure people who look like me (and maybe you!) have equal opportunity and access to voting and representation. The law was implemented to overcome legal barriers — like ‘literacy’ tests — that made it incredibly difficult for African Americans to vote.
The Trump administration says this citizenship question will benefit minority communities — but experts disagree.
Here’s what the experts are saying
Census experts are already calling the Trump administration’s claim bluff…saying that the citizenship question could result in a miscount of nearly 4 million people, mostly minorities.
I sat down with Wendy Weiser, voting rights expert and director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center. She said:
“It’s going to make it harder for communities of color to be able to show that their votes have been diluted because you’re going to see such a dramatic undercount in those communities that they’re not going to show that they have enough population to elect representatives of their choice. The data will be skewed to prevent them from achieving their voting rights.”
The TLDR: This question will result in an undercount of minorities, which will impact their political representation and power.
Not so fun fact: Inaccurate counts already happen in the census.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that millions of people are miscounted every time a census is counted.
The Census Bureau has published several reports on the “longstanding undercount of young children.”
It’s not clear exactly why this happens, but extensive research has revealed, that by undercounting populations — most typically children and people of color — those communities remain in turn, at higher risk of being underserved.
This isn’t a secret…the Bureau has acknowledged that census count coverage varies by race and ethnicity.
For example, the 2010 Census over-counted the non-Hispanic white population (so white people) by 0.8 percent. An overcount of this community also occurred in 2000.
Meanwhile, the same Census undercounted the Black and Hispanic population.
And yes, Black and Hispanic people were also undercounted in 2000. As for additional minority populations:
- the Bureau reports the Asian population in the U.S. was over-counted in the last two census’;
- and, the Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander populations were undercounted.
Enough with the stats though.
What’s the big deal about the citizenship question then…if the census is just for counting people right?
Well, not exactly.
The census does count how many people live in the United States, but more importantly, it determines the fate of where a whole lotta money (we’re talking billions) go each year, and how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives. It impacts political representation and financial allocation.
The Census Bureau states that more than $675 billion in federal funds, grants and local support are based on census reports. Reports indicate that that number may be closer to $800 billion.
Where did this citizenship question come from?
Here’s where it gets interesting.
At NowThis we’ve been reporting on the new evidence that recently surfaced from the hard drive of a now dead Republican strategist: Thomas Hofeller. His estranged daughter found the hard drives, and gave them to some lawyers. The lawyers found a 2015 study from Hofeller in which concluded, as Lorenzo Ferrigno and I found in our reporting, that if, say, the state of Texas had counted the number of documented citizens, Republicans could strengthen their districts.
In leaving out non-citizens, districts with high numbers of undocumented immigrants would have a lower count… which could force the district to be redrawn.
Hofeller literally said such redistricting would:
“be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”
So basically, this man — Thomas Hoeffler — is suspected to be the brainchild of the citizenship question.
One NYCLU lawyer, Perry Grossman, says:
…Dr. Hoeffler said listen, if you want to do redistricting that advantages Republicans and non-Hispanic whites, you’re gonna need a citizenship question on the census. And [the Trump administration] followed suit. And [Hoeffler] was involved in drafting the letter. That provides the chief pretext for the citizenship question. So he has helped the government conceal its true intent.
This arguably challenges the claim of the Trump administration that the question upholds the Voting Rights at 1965.
It suggests, that this citizenship question was crafted with the knowledge — and critics claim, intent — to skew population data to be less representative of minority communities.
Didn’t SCOTUS just decide about the citizenship question?
Yes they did. The media reporting leading up to the decision was quite pessimistic — suggesting the question would go through. My reporting on the ground, speaking with census experts and members of the Census Bureau, painted a much more nuanced picture. Many advocates and legal experts said this new evidence was enough to warrant that the citizenship question not be considered or added at all. And they were right.
Here’s what the Supreme Court decided
If you’re not up for reading all 92 pages of the official SCOTUS opinion, here’s a helpful summary — Chief Justice John Roberts (who was the deciding Justice in this 5/4 case) said this:
Here he’s saying the Trump administration’s argument and intent don’t match up. He also goes on to say, in strong language, “the [Voting Rights Act of 1965] enforcement rationale—the sole stated reason—seems to have been contrived.”
Basically, he’s saying that there is reason to be concerned about why the Commerce Department, per the Trump administration, sought to add a citizenship question to the census. They need to come up with a better explanation.
So what’s next
Okay, so you’re all read up on the census and the potential citizenship question.
It remains unclear if the administration will have enough time to defend it’s decision before the census needs to be printed. The deadline could be as soon as July 1. For now, SCOTUS has sent the case back to a lower court for more proceedings.
As for all of us here who aren’t Supreme Court Justices or district judges— while I’m not going to tell you what to do, I will tell you about some options and resources at your disposal:
- Whatever you think of the citizenship question, you can contact your representatives to learn more about where they stand on this contentious issue.
- You can sign up for census outreach. I recently learned that the census bureau goes from a staff of about 5,000 people to nearly 500k (yes half a million) during a census year. Why? Let’s look at a brief example: In 2010 a little over 70% of individuals responded to the initial census survey. Remember, the Census Bureau wants to count everyone. So they attempt to raise that number by dispatching temporary census takers who try to get more people to respond. You could be someone who supports census outreach. In 2020, the census can be filled online, by telephone, or on paper.
- You can inform your neighbors (not just your friends!) about the importance of filling out a census as fully and accurately as possible; and, about the implications adding the citizenship question will have on the American public — not just in 2020, but in the years that follow.
So, in summary:
In the midst of never ending ‘horse-race politics’ and 24/7 broadcasts I get it: it can be tiring to keep up with the news. Still, it’s important to stay vigilant and aware of just what these incremental legal changes, additional census questions or policy erasures might mean for the fate of so many people.
You can watch our full video report on the 2020 census on Twitter and Facebook. Don’t worry, it’s shorter than this article.
If you wanna hear about the stories I cover day to day…tune into my show KnowThis weeknights at 7p.m. on NowThis Daily on Facebook Watch.
Disclaimer: there are no GIFs on the show. But something tells me you’ll like it anyway. Follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @simplyzinhle. All GIFs sourced from GIPHY.