An internal Census Bureau document lends weight to worries of a hasty 2020 count.

An internal Census Bureau document lends weight to worries of a hasty 2020 count.

Originally Published in The New York Times

Michael Wines - September 3, 2020

The Trump administration prompted a barrage of complaints last month when it ordered the Census Bureau to wrap up the counting portion of the 2020 census by Sept. 30 instead of Oct. 31. The administration ordered the speedup to ensure the delivery of population figures — used to determine congressional districts — by Dec. 31, before President Trump’s term ends.

With the count already thrown into chaos by the pandemic, critics said, an early end would force the Census Bureau to cut corners and ignore inaccuracies, leading to a deeply flawed count.

Census officials rejected such arguments. But an internal Census Bureau slide show released Wednesday by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform lends new weight to them.

The slide show, prepared last month, details how the agency might finish the population count by the end of September, then process its data by Dec. 31 to meet the administration’s order while “achieving an acceptable level of accuracy and completeness.”

But the slide show proposes a long list of shortcuts, including reducing the number of times door-knockers try to reach a household that hasn’t responded, eliminating double-checks of address lists and eliminating some data reviews by experts .

The slide show said that speeding data processing to meet the December deadline “creates risk for serious errors not being discovered in the data — thereby significantly decreasing data quality.”

The 2020 census has been dogged by accusations that the Trump administration is seeking to skew its results to favor Republicans when population totals are used next year to divvy up seats in the House of Representatives — and, later, to draw thousands of federal, state and local political boundaries. Critics say a rushed count would miss hard-to-reach residents — the poor, people of color, immigrants, the young — who tend to support Democrats.

Michael Wines writes about voting and other election-related issues. Since joining The Times in 1988, he has covered the Justice Department, the White House, Congress, Russia, southern Africa, China and various other topics.  @miwine


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