the citizenship Q

I’ll admit it. Before the Supreme Court intervened, the recent wrangling regarding the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census got me thinking… I’m thinking it’s the wrong question…

[Note: The U.S. Census Bureau and Wikipedia are utilized significantly below…]

Mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, the U.S. government “counts each resident of the country, where they live on April 1, every ten years ending in zero… The goal is to count everyone once, only once, and in the right place.” The process originated 229 years ago.

“Many federal, state, local and tribal governments use census data to:

  • Decide the location of new housing and public facilities
  • Examine the demographic characteristics of communities, states, and the US
  • Plan transportation systems and roadways
  • Determine quotas and creation of police and fire precincts
  • Create localized areas for elections, schools, utilities, etc.
  • Gather population information every 10 years”

Additionally — and importantly — the data is used to apportion seats for the U.S. House of Representatives. As the population shifts, so does congressional voting power.

In specific regard to the citizenship question, its history is as follows:

  • It was standard from through 1950.
  • It was omitted for everyone but residents of NYC and Puerto Rico in 1960 for some reason.
  • In 1970, 1980, 1990 and 2000 — when the Census Bureau utilized both a long and short form — it was included on the long form only. 
  • In 2010, only the short form was used, so there was no question about citizenship.
  • In between the decennial counts, the Bureau utilizes the American Community Survey (ACS) — which includes a citizenship question; it’s sent to only, approximately 3% of residents.

So why the wrangling?

Opponents of the question’s inclusion argue that it will deter undocumented immigrants/illegal aliens from filling out the form; the count would then be inaccurate. Since the results are used to allocate resources for the building of schools, hospitals, roads, etc., an accurate count is necessary to receive a perceived a fair or necessary share of federal funding.

The Dept. of Justice maintains they need this question to get an accurate count of the citizen-voting-age population to enforce the Voting Rights Act; the citizen-voting-age population is a necessary metric in drawing appropriate, legal, district maps.

What this means is that in addition to the allocated federal funding, congressional redistricting — determined by the U.S. Census — is based on citizens and non-citizens combined. Remember that non-citizens cannot vote in federal elections. (“Federal law does not prohibit non-citizens from voting in state or local elections, but no state has allowed non-citizens to vote in state elections since Arkansas became the last state to outlaw non-citizen voting in 1926.”)

As for how the country feels about adding the question, in a recent Hill-HarrisX survey, 60% of registered voters said that the citizenship question should be included “even if it means fewer people might fill out the questionnaire.” 21% said the question should not. 19% were “unsure.”

So the better question that got me thinking, as expressed by a wise mentor of mine — and I’m not certain what the answer is — but…

“Should Congressional representation be determined using all population or just citizens?

It is currently all population, and the attempt to add the question would have undermined that. 

But should a state with more non-citizens get more representation in Congress, funding, etc.?

Should the state get more funding for roads, etc., but not more representation?

Not sure there is a right or wrong answer, and given the current tone of our political discourse, the side one is on is simply that which will benefit themselves.”

And therein lies the problem…

While there exist legitimate reasons for both opposition or advocacy, the current tone of our political discourse impedes our ability to ask and answer the better questions.