Recent statements by Census Bureau and Justice Department officials have raised the question of whether the Trump administration plans to diverge from more than two centuries of precedent in how the country’s congressional seats and Electoral College votes are divvied up.
Since the first U.S. census in 1790, the Constitution has called for a head count every 10 years of “persons” living in the U.S. to determine the number of congressional seats each state gets. Federal law requires the commerce secretary, who oversees the Census Bureau, to deliver those numbers by the end of a census year to the president, who must report them to Congress within a week after the start of its new session.
The counts have always included both citizens and noncitizens — regardless of immigration status — although the history of who was counted and how is complicated. Following the Civil War, the 14th Amendment was ratified to require the counting of the “whole number of persons,” ensuring the rights of formerly enslaved people who were once considered “three fifths” of a person. The “Indians not taxed” clause no longer excluded some American Indians by the 1940 census, when the Census Bureau began attempting to include all Native Americans in the counts used for reapportioning seats in Congress.
In recent weeks, however, the Census Bureau’s director, Steven Dillingham, has not been able to provide a clear answer as to whether citizenship will be factored into apportionment after the 2020 census….
Former Census Bureau Director John Thompson tells NPR the ambiguity in the bureau’s statement to Pressley about the apportionment count raises “some serious concerns.”
“I don’t think it’s normal for the Census Bureau” to be vague about what goes into its “most important product,” says Thompson, who was appointed by President Barack Obama and left the bureau in 2017.
With just over five months until the official start of the 2020 census, Thompson says it’s “incredibly important” for the bureau to be transparent about what data will be used to decide how congressional seats and Electoral College votes are redistributed.