WASHINGTON – The Census Bureau confirmed late Monday that it plans to cut four weeks from the schedule for finishing its count of the nation’s 330 million residents, a turnabout that census experts said would deeply imperil an accurate tally of the population.
In a statement posted on its website, the bureau said the updated schedule “reflects our continued commitment to conduct a complete count, provide accurate apportionment data, and protect the health and safety of the public and our workforce.”
But the change is a retreat from the bureau’s statement only months ago that the pandemic had made it necessary to ask for more time to complete the count on schedule. And census experts have said that shortening the calendar for the count would wreak havoc with efforts to reach the hardest-to-count households — immigrants, minorities, young people and others — that have long been flagged as most likely to be missed in this year’s tally.
On Tuesday, four former directors of the Census Bureau issued a statement warning that a shorter deadline “will result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country,” and urged the administration to restore the lost weeks.
The directors, who served under both Democratic and Republican presidents, also urged Congress to have a trusted body of experts develop metrics to assess the quality of the bureau’s population totals.
Other critics, particularly Democrats and advocates for the poor and minorities, called the change an unvarnished attempt by the Trump administration to twist the nation’s population count to exclude groups that, by and large, tended to support Democrats.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Oversight committee that has jurisdiction over the census, said the new schedule would “rush and politicize the 2020 Census” in a letter sent Tuesday to Steven Dillingham, the Census Bureau director.
Maloney noted that Dillingham did not mention the schedule change in testimony to the committee last week and said she would summon career Census Bureau experts to testify about the impact of the change.
“This is a whole systemic attack on the census for political gain,” said Julie Menin, census director for New York City. “There’s an intentional attempt here to basically steal the census — to politicize this census to gain Republican seats across the country.”
The bureau has offered no explanation for the change. But outside experts said the explanation was clearly rooted in politics — in particular, in a demand by President Donald Trump last month to exclude immigrants in the United States illegally from the population totals that are used every 10 years to reallocate House seats among the states.
Slammed by the pandemic, the Census Bureau had said earlier that it wanted to delay its final delivery of population totals to the White House until April 2021, rather than the statutory deadline of Dec. 31. The speedup announced late Monday effectively rescinds that request and assumes that the totals will be delivered by year’s end — before any new president or Congress might take office.
That gives the White House its best opportunity to act on Trump’s effort to remove immigrants in the country illegally from the reapportionment totals, assuming that a lawsuit challenging his directive fails. Many legal experts said the president’s demand for altered population totals would violate the Constitution, which calls for a count of all the nation’s residents.