NYT Editorial: How to Waste Money and Ruin the Census
The following comes from the venerable New York Times:
Published: October 19, 2009
With the start of the 2010 census just a few months away, Senator David Vitter, a Republican of Louisiana, wants to cut off financing for the count unless the survey includes a question asking if the respondent is a United States citizen. Aides say he plans to submit an amendment to the census appropriation bill soon.
As required by law, the Census Bureau gave Congress the exact wording of the survey’s 10 questions in early April 2008 — more than 18 months ago. Changing it now to meet Mr. Vitter’s demand would delay the count, could skew the results and would certainly make it even harder to persuade minorities to participate.
It would also be hugely expensive. The Commerce Department says that redoing the survey would cost hundreds of millions of dollars: to rewrite and reprint hundreds of millions of census forms, to revise instructional and promotional material and to reprogram software and scanners.
During debates in the Senate, Mr. Vitter said that his aim is to exclude noncitizens from population totals that are used to determine the number of Congressional representatives from each state. He is ignoring the fact that it is a settled matter of law that the Constitution requires the census to count everyone in the country, without regard to citizenship, and that those totals are used to determine the number of representatives.
(The Census Bureau already tracks the number of citizens and noncitizens through a separate survey.)
Adding a new question about citizenship would further ratchet up suspicions that the census is being used to target undocumented immigrants. That would discourage participation not only among people who are here illegally but also their families and friends who may be citizens and legal residents. That leads to an inaccurate count.
And since census numbers are also used to allocate federal aid, undercounting minorities shortchanges the cities and states where they live.
Advocates for the census say that Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican of Utah, has also raised the idea of another bad, last-minute change. Under current practice, the only people living abroad included in the census are military personnel and federal civilian employees, and the families of both, stationed overseas. Mr. Hatch, these officials say, wants to include certain other Americans living abroad temporarily, a definition that would be tailored to include — you guessed it — Mormon missionaries.
There seems little doubt that the goal would be to increase population numbers for Utah — to try to garner another Congressional seat. As of Monday, Senator Hatch’s office would not say whether he plans to pursue the idea. He shouldn’t.
Both of these changes would be discriminatory and ridiculously expensive. If Mr. Vitter and Mr. Hatch wanted to argue their cases, they should have done it 18 months ago — or wait until after this count.
Changing the survey now would be a disaster for the census and for American taxpayers. The Senate should defeat any and all attempts to alter or delay the 2010 count.