Keep the 2020 census accurate

“The Republican party is trying to rig democracy through the efforts of the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions”

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Daniel Riley

The Republican party is trying to rig democracy through the efforts of the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Justice Department has asked the United States Census Bureau to add a question regarding citizenship status to the 2020 census, a question that has not appeared since 1960.

One of the functions of the U.S. census is to allot political representation and federal funding across the United States in a way that is proportional to where citizens live. Based on that knowledge, I think there is a strong case to be made for non-citizens and undocumented immigrants to not be surveyed by the census, so that those who do not have voting rights do not lend their respective counties disproportional voting power. While I think that anyone who wants to be an American should get their fair shake at being an American, until that becomes a legislative reality, the official U.S. census should reflect the current laws of the land.

However, there is more to the census than raw population and citizenship data. The roles of fear and family can skew census results, thereby skewing the democratic process. According to several Democratic lawmakers, including a question on the census regarding citizenship could not only discourage undocumented immigrants from participating in the census, but could also discourage their legal family members from participating due to the fear of drawing the government’s attention to their mixed-status families. It could also discourage entire immigrant communities from participating due to general wariness of untrustworthy and hostile government. This could lead to bad data and an inaccurate population headcount, yielding inaccurate political representation.

Of course, this isn’t really about the integrity of data. This move by the Justice Department is symptomatic of a simple fact: In modern America, the GOP cannot win national arguments, but they can win national elections. They accomplish this feat through gerrymandering, voter suppression and taking advantage of a flawed winner-takes-all electoral system that punishes citizens for living near other citizens while allotting disproportional power to under-populated regions. The Democratic candidates for president have won the popular vote six out of seven times since the election of 1992, and yet there have been two Republican presidents and two Democratic presidents within that timeframe. Six out of seven times, more people have supported the Democrat’s platform, and with it the Democrat’s ideals and values. Progressives reliably win the contemporary national argument, but even if that consistent victory is reassuring in the face of institutionalized discrimination against minorities and women, it is often meaningless in a federal republic historically founded on the exclusive representation of land-owning white men.

Meanwhile, Republicans win on that foundation, relying on nationwide low voter turnout, as 21st century voters in rural areas who hold disproportionate representative power in the federal government are reliable conservative votes, requiring urban progressive voters to get to voting booths in high numbers in order to offset unfair electoral systems and give most Americans the government they desire and deserve. Adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census would lead to a misrepresentation of the objective demographic layout of the American people, as most immigrants live in urban areas. This would effectively render our electoral system even more unfair by shifting power away from the 80 percent who live in American cities and into the hands of rural voters whose representation is more rooted in the square mileage of their property than their status as individual constituents.

To be clear, I neither think poorly of rural Americans, nor do I desire a United States where city-dwellers have total political power over rural Americans, whose lifestyles the city-dwellers know nothing about. I have never lived anywhere but East Coast suburbia, and I know nothing about the laborious conditions people face on a day-to-day basis just to put food on the table in the South and Midwest. It just might be fairer if the nation is not reset or worsened by a partisan 2020 census favoring the current administration.

Adding a citizenship question is a political power grab by the GOP meant to distort the objective facts about how and where Americans choose to live in order to empower their base and win elections. Efforts to distort the truth should be greeted with rejection on Election Day.

Daniel Riley is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]