How the Census Citizenship Question Could Affect Future Elections

On Nov. 6, Americans will head to the polls to exercise their right to vote. The day before, the ACLU will head to trial to try to prevent the Trump administration from diluting the political influence of millions of people for years to come.

In March, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that for the first time in 70 years the decennial census questionnaire will ask respondents whether or not they are U.S. citizens. Secretary Ross has admitted that including this citizenship question will result in the census undercounting an estimated 1 percent of the population — more than 3 million people — because, in his own words, there are “folks who may not feel comfortable answering” the citizenship question.

The folks who won’t want to answer a citizenship question on the census are largely members of immigrant communities of color whom the Trump administration has targeted since it came to power. This includes both non-citizens and U.S. citizens, many of whom may fear that participating will expose their non-citizen family members, neighbors, or loved ones to repercussions.

The census already has a history of undercounting communities of color. In the 1990 census, Hispanic Americans were undercounted by about 5 percent. In 2010, the census failed to count 1.5 million Latino and Black people. In 2020, the Census Bureau will ask for citizenship information – a move that will dissuade millions from responding and make the undercounting problem far, far worse.

Why does an undercount matter?

For one, the census population count is used to apportion representation in Congress, allocate votes in the Electoral College, and draw congressional and state legislative districts. Apportionment is based on the number of people who live in a district, regardless of their legal status. 

If the citizenship question goes forward and the census experiences a sizeable undercount, states with large immigrant populations could very well lose political representation in Congress. An undercount would also shift power away from urban areas — since about 61 percent of undocumented immigrants live in just 20 U.S. cities —and toward rural areas, which already have disproportionate political power as a result of the Electoral College and the Senate.

Congressional and state legislative districts in immigrant-heavy cities like San Antonio, Houston, and Miami will receive the same number of representatives as non-urban districts in the same state, despite having larger populations — a situation that dilutes the political power of urban immigrant communities.

In other words, immigrant communities of color will get less electoral representation than other U.S. residents, attacking the fundamental idea of equal representation. And Latino citizens — already disproportionately burdened by a wave of voter suppression efforts such as laws requiring documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote — again face a significant threat to their political influence.

What’s more, census data also determines how an estimated $900 billion in funding for crucial social service, health, and education programs is allocated. If immigrants are undercounted, that means the communities in which they live are likely to receive less Title I funding for elementary and secondary schools, less funding for children’s health insurance coverage under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and less Medicaid funding. 

Here’s the saddest part: the Trump administration knows all of this. The entire purpose of the census survey, as required by the Constitution, is to get an accurate headcount of all “persons” living in the U.S., regardless of citizenship status. So why is the administration is charging ahead with a question that they’ve already conceded will undercount more than three million people?

Simply put, the administration doesn’t want certain people to count. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — who played a key role in adding the question, along with former White House adviser Steve Bannon — said clearly that the goal of the citizenship question was to move toward “excluding illegal aliens from the apportionment process.”

Attacks on immigrants have become a hallmark of the Trump administration, and with the citizenship question, the administration is attempting to do 10 years’ worth of damage in one go. The trial that starts on Nov. 5 seeks to stop this plan, which intentionally discriminates against immigrants and communities of color and violates the constitutional mandate to count the U.S. population accurately.  

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Anonymous

This is disgusting!! This administration needs to stop with the constant attacks.

AnonymouS

It a campaign driver to instigate his base to react and push a vote, like Nationalism was last week, and NFL kneeling during the National anthem last month. It twangs their bigotry which resonates with Republicans, and is used with more frequency in their politics.

Anonymous

What are you talking about "Attacks"? It is appropriate for the Census to have an accurate count of people in this country, citizens and non-citizens. Clearly the left wants to continue the falsehoods of the REAL impact of illegal aliens in this country. The numbers are far greater than reported. Just in California, the fiscal impact of services to illegal aliens have turned the once Great State into a third world country. The Census question should include citizenship.

Jordan

What can we do, as citizens to avoid having to answer these questions? This is definitely going to snowball from the initial deportations, family separations and general human rights violations to rezoning and gerrymandering to attempt to lock up power.

Anonymous

On job applications where I am "asked" to choose an ethnicity, I always opt out. They say it's optional, but given they are looking at the application by my name -- they probably have already assumed my ethnicity. So employers must not like that, I haven't gotten an job interview in five years. IF you don't answer the question, they think you must have something to hide or something -- or the algorithm that is doing the AI work behind the scenes to review the application (Indeed website) was programmed to exclude those who don't want to play along.

But it's foolish to think, opting out will allow oneself to be counted along with all the others.

Anonymous

This is just one more attempt at voter suppression.

Anonymous

Voter Suppression, huh? You should not use words you don't understand the meaning. Census has nothing to do with voter suppression, unless of course liberals are allowing illegal aliens to vote. . . .of course they are.

Anonymous

Voter Suppression?
How is this voter suppression when illegal aliens have no right to vote?
But we all know they vote anyway....

Judith

I don’t plan on answering the question, either. Not because of fear - I and my parents were born in the United States. I’m angry that my government is including such a disgusting question on the census. And yes I know how important the census is, but we have to take a stand at some point against this racist administration

Anonymous

Being asked if you are a citizen is disgusting??? Are you crazy?

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