Last December, the Department of Justice requested addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Census. They claimed this data was needed to make sure all voting-age citizens are counted under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Yet this question hasn’t been asked since 1950—five years before the Voting Rights Act was passed.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s announcement that the citizenship question would be included lead to a storm of protests and lawsuits by states, cities, and citizen groups. Despite reassurances that people who don't answer the citizenship question will still be counted, the question's inclusion, plus the threat of fines for returning false or incomplete forms, will doubtlessly discourage migrants from responding. In turn this undermines the government’s constitutional responsibility to count every person every 10 years.
In a recent two-hour hearing, legislators emphasized migrants' legitimate fears of deportation could lead to a serious undercount. Other problems with the census include lack of permanent leadership at the Census Bureau and of funding shortfalls, which could also impact a reliable census.
Why do we need an accurate count? Redistricting, based on total resident population, occurs after every census, so it’s important to have accurate numbers of citizens and non-citizens alike. Combine an inaccurate count with gerrymandering and you can deliver a district to one or another major party. Plus, the census determines state government share of federal dollars for vital programs including healthcare, housing, and emergency planning and relief.
Please call your Representatives and Senators to ask that the 2020 Census be fully funded and that the citizenship question be dropped. You can find contact information for the House here and the Senate here.