Ciboski: The Importance Of The Census

May 29, 2019

Credit U.S. Census Bureau

The country is preparing to conduct the 2020 census. Since 1790, every 10 years the Constitution has required a count of all people living in the United States. We should be aware of the importance of the census for many reasons. 

One is that the distribution of population across the country will shape how federal dollars and political power are shared for the next decade. The census determines the number of Congressional seats for each state, which, in turn, determines each state’s electoral votes for president.

Kansas is expected to keep its four U.S. House seats, while states in the South and Southwest will be winners in gaining seats. Texas will gain four seats, the most in its history. This means increased political clout for those states. Significantly, gains by West Coast states, including California, have slowed.

This census will be the first to allow households to respond online. Paper forms will also be available, as will 1-800 numbers. Census workers will make home visits to remote areas, such as rural Alaska and some Indian reservations. Households that do not respond by early April may receive visits by those trained to conduct interviews and get responses using smartphones.

There is one other matter of importance. Except for five or six states, legislative members will redraw district boundaries—the party with the majority in the state legislature has the most influence in drawing the districts of both U.S. House seats and state legislatures. The districts are expected to be compact, contiguous, and relatively equal in population. Often, the voting behavior of districts is examined and the majority party can then engage in gerrymandering or moving voters among districts to favor the majority party. The courts have begun to scrutinize and reject more blatant examples of this.

So we must remember: When voters cast their ballots for state legislative candidates, they are also voting for the next redistricting measure for both the U.S. House and the state legislature.

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