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The GOP is sabotaging this sacred mandate

Catherine Rampell on

Already, funding shortfalls and administration disorganization have left these efforts woefully behind.

A scheduled dress rehearsal for the 2020 count was whittled from three sites to one, in Providence County, Rhode Island.

One goal of such tests is to find ways to maximize participation of "hard-to-count" populations, such as immigrants, the homeless and households below the poverty line. Because these are largely Democratic constituencies, Republicans may shrug at the setbacks they've created.

But Trump Country is also at risk at being overlooked.

That's because funding uncertainty forced the Census Bureau to kill its "only opportunities to test, in a real-time, census-like environment, special counting methods for rural areas," as Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, explained in recent congressional testimony.

Apparently not content to shortchange funding, the administration is also taking steps that will actively decrease participation.

 

As ProPublica first reported, the Justice Department recently sent a letter to the Census Bureau asking it to add a new question to the 2020 form. Adding a question -- any question -- this late in the game is risky; there's no time to field-test how people will respond to it.

But this particular question is unusually hazardous: It's about citizenship.

The Justice Department claims it needs finely grained citizenship data to enforce the Voting Rights Act, a proposition that every census alumnus and civil rights expert I interviewed rejected.

Whatever the administration's motives, the main consequence of adding this question is clear: It would spook immigrants (legal or otherwise) and especially Hispanics anxious about how the government might use their data.

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