In two years, the federal government will count every person living in America. The decennial census was mandated by our founding fathers and written into the U.S. Constitution. Its accuracy is critically important to Kern County.
The founding fathers did not say to count only citizens. They said count every person residing in the United States — or, as the original language called them, “free persons.”
So, every 10 years, an army of bureaucrats descends to count noses. Not all noses want to be counted. Some people simply don’t trust the government, or don’t believe it has any business asking them questions.
They ignore initial mailed questionnaires. They don’t answer the door when a canvasser knocks. Sometimes, census workers are sent out to question neighbors in an attempt to compile a population estimate.
Why is it important to know how many people live in a city, county or state?
Liken it to planning a dinner party. To have enough food prepared, you have to have at least an estimate of how many people will show up.
The census lets us plan for the number of people who will show up on our highways, and in our schools and emergency rooms. In Kern County, the number identifies such needs as school enrollments, transportation improvements, waste water treatment, and police and fire protection.
If the count is not right, the public services are not sized correctly. Distribution of federal and state tax dollars to help fund services also will be shorted.
But some politicians focus more on the political aspect of count. The population figures are used to divvy up seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. As the population and numbers shift around, so does a state’s representation in the House.
And that offers the temptation for political parties to attempt to game the U.S. Census — shifting seats held by one party to another.
That brings us to efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census. It is a question that was removed from the count 70 years ago because of its chilling effect on responses.
The fear is that the reluctance of an already-skeptical population to cooperate with the census will increase as undocumented people, who are living in America, or their legally residing family members go into hiding, or give inaccurate answers.
In the current anti-immigrant environment, no amount of reassurance from the government that the information will be kept confidential — as the law requires — will overcome the belief that the census should be feared and avoided.
That is why the attorneys general of Washington D.C. and 18 states — California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — as well as Colorado’s governor — sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees the census, to exclude the citizenship question. More than 160 of the nation’s mayors and 170 organizations likewise have expressed alarm.
The founding fathers anticipated the temptation to do mischief with the census. They gave Congress oversight. Census questions must be submitted for approval by Congress by March 31. Bakersfield and Kern County, which are represented by Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy, the second most powerful man in the House of Representatives, have a lot riding on an accurate count.
McCarthy and the Congress must do what is right — and not “politically clever” — to assure that the 2020 Census is an accurate count and not a manipulated one.