TAMPA, Fla. — There are plenty of interests, most of them with dubious intentions, that would like to abandon the way the U.S. Census Bureau traditionally conducts its decennial “hands-on” counting of the population of the United States.
The Trump administration and its political backers understand that to control the outcome of the census is to control the U.S. House of Representatives and the Electoral College.
The state-by-state apportionment of 435 House seats and the allotment of 435 of the 538 presidential electors between the states are based on the latest census.
There are those on the political right who insist the Census Bureau should concentrate its efforts on merely counting heads, without any regard for collecting statistics on race, age, ethnic group, gender, and income level.
There have also been calls for the census to include sexual orientation statistics. By not determining the actual population of minority groups, census result could and would be used for the gerrymandering of congressional districts, particularly in urban areas, to ensure African-Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented in the House of Representatives.
It is important that every American subject to the census understand that our country’s founders believed that a 10-year counting of the population was so important that they mandated it in the U.S. Constitution.
America’s founding document states in Article I, Section 2 that “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States … according to their respective Numbers … The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years.”
Those conservative quarters, from which is heard a constant refrain of strictly interpreting the Constitution, are more than happy to financially cut corners for the constitutionally-mandated census.
Some on the political right suggest that Americans could be counted more efficiently and at a lower cost over the Internet. That would be a dream-come-true for the right.
The homeless, poor rural residents, and many senior citizens and disabled people would go uncounted.
Slash-and-burn Republican policymakers would use an undercounting of the most vulnerable Americans to take a budget ax to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Head Start, public education, veterans’ and public health clinics, unemployment assistance, family-owned farm support, and other social safety net programs.
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, a billionaire banker who wore $500 custom-made bedroom slippers to Donald Trump’s first address to Congress last February, may see his department’s Census Bureau as unnecessary and financially burdensome to his department’s overall budget.
However, Ross would be violating his constitutional oath if he did not provide the Census Bureau with all the tools it requires to conduct the most accurate and politics-free census as possible.
The census should also ensure maximum privacy for the providers of information, especially since the Trump administration is jam-packed with those who might decide to sell personal census data to their friends in the information brokerage industry.
Secretary Ross testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that he was seeking a two-percent increase in the Census Bureau’s budget for Fiscal Year 2018.
Ross should be congratulated for increasing the budget of the bureau. However, Ross’s prioritization for the “strategic reuse” of census data by other government departments and the private sector is a worrisome sign.
Ross said nothing about the privacy controls for such potentially personally-identifiable data. Census data, like voter registration data held by the states, should not be used by private actors to micro-target Americans with various schemes.
That is not the purpose for census data and any suggestion to the contrary is not in keeping with the wishes of America’s founders.
Wayne Madsen, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, is a progressive commentator whose writings have appeared in leading American and European newspapers. Readers may write him at 415 Choo Choo Lane, Valrico, FL 3359.