New report finds a mysterious order to cut the census short poses a serious threat

New report finds a mysterious order to cut the census short poses a serious threat
Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

The deadline for the 2020 U.S. Census is only a week away; no responses will be allowed after Wednesday, September 30. And according to a new report from the Commerce Department inspector general, it is unclear who gave the order for the Census deadline to be moved up.

Stephanie Ebbs and Cheyenne Haslett of ABC News report:

The Commerce Department’s internal watchdog has determined that the order to cut short the 2020 Census did not come from the Census Bureau and even the Bureau’s director doesn’t know who ultimately made the call. The Department’s inspector general’s office doesn’t say where the order came from but suggests the question of whether there was political interference is being investigated.

Ebbs and Haslett quote the Commerce Department Inspector General’s office as saying, “The schedule change was not the Bureau’s decision, nor was it the first time the 2020 Census schedule had been changed. Senior officials at the Bureau, including the director, did not know who ultimately made the decision to accelerate the Census schedule.”

On September 18, Commerce Department Inspector General Peggy E. Gustafson sent out a memo titled, “The Acceleration of the Census Schedule Increases the Risks to a Complete and Accurate 2020 Census.” In the memo, Gustafson explained, “On August 3, 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau (the Bureau) issued a press release announcing a decision ‘to accelerate’ the 2020 Census. Following the announced schedule acceleration, our office received several congressional inquiries expressing concern about the expedited schedule. News articles also highlighted these changes, as did former directors of the U.S. Census Bureau in a joint statement.”

Gustafson, in the memo, went on to say, “In our review of the circumstances surrounding the accelerated 2020 Census schedule, we found the following: I. The decision to accelerate the Census schedule was not made by the Census Bureau. II. The accelerated schedule increases the risks to obtaining a complete and accurate 2020 Census.”

Ebbs and Haslett note that according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s website, the 2020 Census has so far counted 95.4% of U.S. households but point out that “in some states — including Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Montana — that percentage is under 90%.”

The ABC News journalists report, “The once-in-a-decade count is closely watched because it will determine major political and economic fallout for the next ten years. The Census determines how many seats states get in the House of Representatives, known as the reapportionment process, and states including New York and California are at risk of losing seats if there’s an undercount. It’s also used to redraw district maps, which happens once every ten years and has a huge influence on who is elected, how equal representation is in each district and what power each district yields.”

After Democrats enjoyed a major blue wave in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 and had a net gain of at least 40 seats, some pundits argued that the blue wave would have been even larger if Republicans had not gerrymandered so many parts of the U.S. Researchers William T. Adler and Stuart A. Thompson made that argument in a New York Times article published in late 2018.

Paul Ong, a former Census Bureau adviser and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at the University of California, Los Angeles, told ABC News, “Clearly, there are political motivations to change the timeline and particularly to close off the Census and the count early, because what that’s going to do is bias the final count. It’s going to lead to a substantial undercounting of low-income people and people of color — and the political implication to that is very clear: by excluding them from the count, you also bias the reapportionment process and the redistricting process.”


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