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The GOP is sabotaging this sacred mandate

Catherine Rampell on

WASHINGTON -- The Founding Fathers must be spinning in their graves.

Not because of cavalier threats about nuclear apocalypse and attempted erosion of First Amendment rights (OK, maybe those things, too). Because our federal government is failing to execute one of its most basic constitutional duties: the decennial census.

The decennial census is the country's largest civilian mobilization. It determines where billions of federal dollars flow each year, and how many congressional and electoral college seats each state gets. The results have enormous influence over the decisions of businesses and local governments, too.

It's also, yes, mandated by the U.S. Constitution, right there in Article I, Section 2.

Yet despite all the brandishing of pocket Constitutions on the right, the Trump White House and Republican lawmakers are sabotaging this sacred mandate. First they refused to sufficiently fund it. Now they're taking actions that would severely depress participation.

This raises the prospect that those final, critically important numbers will be -- to use one of our president's preferred adjectives -- WRONG.

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You might be thinking: It's only 2018! The census is a couple of years off. We have time to get it right.

While the enumeration itself doesn't happen until 2020, planning begins years in advance. The Census Bureau must try out questions. It must test-drive technologies -- especially important this time around, because for the first time, the questionnaire will be administered primarily online.

The bureau must also figure out which community groups can help with public outreach and what kind of messaging will be most effective in getting people to stand up and be counted.

This last task is especially challenging in an era marked by record distrust of government. (More on that in a bit.)

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