Most of us give very little thought to the U.S. Census Bureau and the census that is taken once every ten years. Ho hum, right? We get a form, fill it out, send it back and at the end, we read in the news how many people live in the country … just another statistic to store away somewhere in the backs of our minds, for there are more important things to think about. But you may want to start thinking a bit harder about the census that will be taken in 2020.
The census is about more than simply counting how many people are in the country. It is also the source for the demographics that are used by the government to make policy decisions. And, it determines such things as how many electoral votes each state gets, how may representatives each state will have in Congress, and where district lines will be drawn. Therefore, it is pretty important to have accuracy in the census. Though it is impossible to ever have complete accuracy, the Census Bureau strives for the highest possible degree of accuracy … we hope.
Currently, the head of the U.S. Census Bureau is a temporary career civil servant, and as the agency is beginning to gear up for the 2020 census, Trump is looking to appoint a permanent head for the bureau. Now think back to some of Trump’s other appointments. Trump has made a habit of appointing individuals to serve in his administration who are either supremely unqualified or seemingly opposed to the very objectives of the agencies they are tapped to lead: Betsy DeVos, who is against public schools, for Secretary of the Department of Education; Jeff Sessions, a known racist, for U.S. Attorney General; Scott Pruitt, who has sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) multiple times, for head of the EPA, the very agency he has threatened to abolish. So who, you might ask, is Trump reportedly planning to appoint to lead the Census Bureau?
Thomas Brunell, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas at Dallas, and author of the book Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America (Controversies in Electoral Democracy and Representation). Think on this one for just a minute, friends. The man who will be in charge of the department that will determine how representation is apportioned believes that competitive elections are a bad thing. Mind-boggling, don’t you think?
The leadership positions in the U.S. Census Bureau have typically been held by non-partisan civil servants with a background in statistics. Trump is planning to nominate Brunell to the number two position at the bureau, deputy director, which does not require Senate confirmation, as the position of director would. Brunell would become the highest-ranking permanent official at the agency. Though the deputy director technically reports to the census director, that slot is temporarily being filled by a career civil servant. There is currently no nominee for a permanent director.
Trump has already paved the way for curtailment of voter’s rights with his false, unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud in the 2016 elections. He is also said to be considering an executive order to add a question to the census form about immigration/citizenship status, which would reduce the number of responses from minorities, fearing what the government might do with the information. At the same time, his budget calls for an inadequate 7% increase for the Census Bureau at a time when they bureau must hire tens of thousands of people and open dozens of field offices nationwide. And we cannot forget his ‘Advisory Commission on Election Integrity’ which has been the source of much controversy and is currently facing a number of lawsuits after attempting to collect the private information, including Social Security numbers and criminal conviction data of registered voters.
The appointment of Brunell is but another indication that Trump has little respect for our rights as voters, for the democratic process. My hope is that Trump will be out of office by the end of 2018, but even so, many of the moves he is making today, such as the appointment of Brunell, may be difficult to undo, if his replacement is even willing to reverse his actions. Coupled with the fact that there is no doubt in my mind Russia will continue to play a role in our elections, since there have been no repercussions to them, no sanctions, for their proven interference in the 2016 elections, I think it’s safe to say our right to have a voice in government is greatly diminished.
Terri Ann Lowenthal, former co-director of the Census Project, said, “It is imperative that the Census Bureau’s leadership be viewed by the public and by lawmakers as completely nonpartisan. If either the director or the deputy director bring partisan baggage to their position, public confidence in the integrity of the census could plummet. So could congressional confidence. And it is Congress that must accept the apportionment results. All this stuff worries me.”