Reviews | Trump’s efforts to sabotage the census may have failed

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In 2020, President Donald Trump tried to sabotage the census, the constitutionally mandated once-a-decade count of the U.S. population that determines the amount of political representation, federal money, and other benefits that communities receive. He failed to carry out his more extreme plans to manipulate the count, through which he hoped to increase Republican representation and minimize that of Democrats. But new figures released by the Census Bureau last month suggest he still managed to do substantial damage to both the integrity of the process and the public’s trust in it.

The bureau reported that it significantly underestimated the population in six states – Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas – and overstated the population in eight – Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Utah. Arkansas’ undercount rate exceeded 5%, while Hawaii’s overcount rate was nearly 7%. Nevertheless, the law requires that these numbers determine the distribution of congressional seats among the states.

The bureau’s data did not reveal which communities in each state were miscounted. But figures released in March showed that blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans living on reservations were underestimated nationally, while whites and Asian Americans were overestimated. The distribution of affected states appears to reflect these broad trends.

Undercounts could have starved Florida and Texas – two red states with large minority populations — seats in Congress. On the other hand, Minnesota and Rhode Island, which are whiter and run by Democrats, may have retained congressional seats that their population size did not warrant.

For its part, the Census Bureau argues that the 2020 count was not that different from previous censuses. Yet in 2010, the bureau managed to do significantly better, reporting no miscalculations. Don’t blame the professional staff at the Census Bureau. They had to conduct a massive, in-person count of millions of people during a global pandemic and amid concerted efforts by the Trump administration to undermine their work.

The fact that their plan to bribe the census appears to have failed does not absolve the former president and members of his administration of attempting to politicize the 10-year exercise.

From there, the office, the Biden administration more broadly, and Congress should ensure that the most accurate population estimates are used to distribute federal money. And Congress must consider ways to insulate the Census Bureau from future presidents seeking to corrupt core government functions for their own political advantage.

The evolution of the federal government’s 10-year tally can make a huge difference to who wields power in Washington and in whose name. He can never again be vulnerable to the kind of overtly political aggression Mr. Trump carried out in 2020.

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