UPDATE: More solid reporting on this issue is available in the Salt Lake Tribune.
Back in June I wrote, “In America’s last decennial headcount, Utah was 800 citizens short of gaining a fourth seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. One major factor: Many Mormons from Utah spend time overseas as missionaries and weren’t counted in the 2000 Census.” Well, as the AP just reported, “The U.S. Census Bureau has told Utah’s elected leaders it won’t count Mormon missionaries serving overseas in the nation’s next head count.”
SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Census Bureau has told Utah’s elected leaders it won’t count Mormon missionaries serving overseas in the nation’s next head count.
Census Bureau officials, rejecting Utah’s lobbying efforts for the better part of a decade, say there’s no way to reliably count the overseas missionaries.
Utah leaders say the omission cost the state an extra congressional seat in 2000, when the state fell just 857 people short of receiving the last available slot in the U.S. House.
The Census Bureau does count military and federal employees serving overseas, and Rob Bishop, R-Utah, says it should include Mormons on proselytizing missions.
“The bottom line should still be fairness and accuracy,” Bishop said. “If we are currently counting some people abroad and not others, there is just no logic to that whatsoever.”
An experiment in counting Americans abroad in 2004 turned into a “colossal failure,” said Louis Kincannon, a former Census Bureau director under President Bill Clinton. Few Americans responded to an outreach program in three sample countries — Mexico, France and Kuwait.
A government consulting firm, Election Data Services, estimates that 6 million Americans are living overseas. But federal officials say there’s no dependable way to track down citizens who move around and may not want to be found because they don’t want to pay U.S. taxes.
A review by the Government Accountability Office found that counting Americans overseas is impractical, and it suggested the Census Bureau abandon the effort. The bureau says overseas counts produce erratic results that could distort state-by-state counts.
Census officials said that if Congress wants them to count all citizens overseas, it will have to enact legislation making it a requirement.
Utah sued the Census Bureau in 2001 in an attempt to get the military count thrown out, saying it unfairly benefited North Carolina, which claimed the 435th House seat a year earlier largely because of the state’s military bases, such as the U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg and the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Utah’s claims and ruled the Census Bureau enjoys wide discretion on counting.