The census has been part of American life since the publication of the Constitution, which mandates in Article I Section 2 that the government “enumerate” all citizens of the country every 10 years. 2020 marks one such year, when the federal government will take a count of all individuals and households nationwide. This particular census, set to take place between January and April, has been the subject of discussion and controversy on both national and local levels.
Along with the constitutionally mandated count, the census also collects data concerning characteristics like sex, race, ancestry, health, education and a number of other population-related factors. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the racial component is taken into consideration to “help communities ensure equal opportunity and determine how many people are eligible for certain government programs” and to “enforce rules against race-based discrimination.”
Indeed, the census serves to collect data for equal opportunity organizations and other efforts in order to determine the allocation of about $800 billion annually in federal funds. Its main purpose, however, is to account for citizens in a given area to determine how to redistrict and redistribute congressional seats. The Trump administration announced intentions last year to add a question addressing citizenship status to the 2020 census, citing districting concerns.
The administration reasoned through Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who said in a report, “I have determined that reinstatement of a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census is necessary to provide complete and accurate data in response to the DOJ request [for more detailed voting data].”
Ideally, per supporters of adding the citizenship question, the inclusion of citizenship data would ensure than no non-citizens would factor into voting districts, which might falsely overstate the voting population in one region.
Public outrage, however, was widespread and immediate. Challengers cited civil liberties concerns, namely that many Hispanic households would abstain from responding altogether in fear of deportation of themselves or relatives, likely resulting in an undercount in several states, especially those with high Hispanic populations like Florida, California and Texas. Additionally, some noted that such a question could result in discriminative districting, or gerrymandering.
Several groups including the Voting Rights Project wing of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the administration over these challenges, and the Supreme Court ruled in July 2019 that the bureau’s reasons for adding the question were not legitimate. Facing what the New York Times called “a daunting hurdle,” the president and his lawyers dropped the issue soon after.
Dallas also saw local complications surrounding this year’s census. Specifically, many Texans have demonstrated concern surrounding statewide participation. According to the Dallas Morning News, Texas has amassed 4.5 million new citizens since the last census, which would likely affect districting and congressional seats in the next election cycle. As a result, officials from highly-populated cities in the state have called for a statewide effort to raise awareness and incentivize participation.
Officials suggest that a state-organized committee focused on media and education leading up to the census could increase participation from minority groups who might otherwise abstain due to citizenship concerns or simply widespread lack of knowledge.
The Texas state government, however, elected not to fund advertising campaigns for the census, as one of few states not doing so in 2019 and 2020. To make up for this, Dallas and other cities have come up with local campaigns with albeit far less financing than a statewide campaign would provide.
The city of Dallas allocated $1.9 million to advertising firm Alpha Business Images on Jan. 7, after Houston and Harris County put $4 million toward census outreach and Travis County allocated $600,000 since last summer.
The 2020 census, like each decade’s census, will carry major weight around the country. Its effect will be even more poignant here in Texas, with a possible three seats to be gained in the House of Representatives. Following months of discussion across the country, all that is left to do is fill out the ballots and commence the count.
Image courtesy of the Dallas Morning News