Representation Suffers When We Give Up on CensusRoundup
tags: census, representation
Karim Michel Tiro is professor of history at Xavier University.
Recently, the Trump administration indicated that it plans to stop knocking on doors for the 2020 census on Sept. 30. Previously, it had acknowledged the pandemic was slowing work, and requested Congress grant an extension into 2021. But now, with about 40% of the country still unaccounted for, the Census Bureau is planning to simply give up.
The resulting figures will disproportionately undercount residents of big cities, many of them nonwhite. This will help entrench the status quo in terms of the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives, as well as federal resources, even if conditions have changed.
By calling it quits, the Trump administration is violating the spirit, and likely the letter, of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution mandates an “enumeration” of the entire population every 10 years. All people were to be counted, regardless of whether they were eligible to vote, except “Indians not taxed.” The routine nature of the census provision makes it easy for us to overlook the fact that it was actually a matter of some importance to the Americans who voted to ratify the Constitution.
One of the flaws in the British political system was the fairly static apportionment of seats in Parliament. Lacking a mechanism of periodic revision, many members hailed from “rotten boroughs,” places that had large populations in the past, but no longer did. Meanwhile, new population centers emerged but were left without representation that reflected their size and importance. The colonies did not escape this problem in their own legislatures.
Such a clearly systematic issue might have been corrected in a systematic way, but it was not. As is often the case, those who had been given power were in no hurry to share it.
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