“The same folks who don’t want people of color to vote don’t want us to be counted. The census is about three things: money, power and information. And unless we rise up to save Census 2020, this rigged, intentional undercount will cost us political power at all levels; billions in federal funding; and vital information to help lift up the communities that we fight so hard for.” — U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay
The principle of “one person, one vote” is enshrined in the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
It means that one person’s voting power should be equivalent to another person. While the Electoral College and the U.S. Senate give far more voting power to the citizens of sparsely populated states than densely populated ones, the one place where “one person, one vote” comes closest to being true is in the U.S. House of Representatives.
But we can’t achieve equal representation without a fair census.
Monday, April 1, marked the start of the one-year countdown to the 2020 census. Elected officials and communities across the country are holding special events to mark this important occasion and raise awareness about the 2020 census.
African-American children and Black men are undercounted in great numbers, disproportionate to their numbers in the overall population. The National Urban League has formed a 2020 Census Black Roundtable to address these concerns.
At the same time organizations like ours are working toward a fair count, sinister forces are trying to sabotage a full and complete count of the total American population — as required by the Constitution — by planning to add a controversial “citizenship question” to the 2020 census questionnaire.
The question is intended to deter immigrants of all races, ethnicities and legal status from participating in the census, leading to a severe undercount of vulnerable population and diminishing their voice in public life.
Census data also guide the allocation of more than $800 billion in federal funding to programs that are crucial to families and communities. A skewed census means inequitable distribution of resources.
Federal courts in New York and California struck down the citizenship question in February and March of this year. The case has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear the case on April 23.
The National Urban League joined other civil rights groups in filing a “friend of the court” brief opposing the citizenship question. As stated in the brief, “Given its foundational importance to American government and society, the census must be above partisan politics. The misguided decision to reverse seventy years of consistent census practice and insert an untested citizenship question undermines the integrity of the count, damages our communities, and violates the Census Bureau’s constitutional and statutory duties to conduct a full enumeration of the U.S. population.”
Furthermore, deterring minority populations from participating in the census would undermine enforcement of the Voting Rights Act because it would undercount the minority populations who rely on that data to bring VRA claims.
The 2020 census will take place at the height of the U.S. presidential campaign. Dirty politics, racist messaging and campaign theatrics will detract from 2020 census messaging encouraging the public to “Be Counted.” Similar to what we saw in the 2016 presidential campaign, “bad actors” on social media platforms will try to deter communities of color from participating in the census to suppress redistricting efforts and the allocation of seats in Congress.
Conducting a fair count is a Constitutional obligation, that must not be subject to partisan sabotage. We’re committed to spending the next year raising awareness about the importance of a fair census and fighting back against any attempts to deter minority participation.
Morial is president of the National Urban League.