Idaho has a vital stake in an accurate 2020 census count

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A federal district court judge ruled on March 6 that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross broke the law by adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. A January 15 ruling by a different federal judge reached the same conclusion. The issue is scheduled to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court on April 23.

The judge in the March decision said Ross knew the question would result in an undercount of all people in the U.S. and was done for political purposes. The U.S. Constitution requires a count of all “persons” in the country, not just citizens. An accurate count is important because the number of persons determines how much is paid to each state for certain federal programs and, more importantly, the number of seats a state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives and Electoral College.

Ross was advised by census experts that asking the citizenship question would cause immigrants, particularly those without papers, to avoid the census. Nevertheless, he insisted on asking the question and lied about the reason for doing so.

It is not clear what the Supreme Court will do, but the outcome of the case is vitally important to Idaho and other fast-growing states. The next census will cause some states to lose Congressmen, while others will gain. This is not a partisan fight, but a competition between states that are gaining residents and those that are losing population. One projection indicates that Idaho may miss getting an additional member of the House by just 50,000 people, while another says the gap is fewer than 19,000. If we are that close, it is vitally important that every person within our borders be counted.

Idaho has a way to go to get a third seat, but it is the fastest growing state. It will grow an estimated 2.1% this year. Ada County alone grew by 3.6% last year. We have over 100,000 immigrants, many of them undocumented, and we simply can’t afford for them to be fearful of participating in the census. Too much is at stake if we have an opportunity to increase our power in the U.S. House by 50% and get another vote in the Electoral College.

There are a number of things we can do to make sure that all of our people are counted. Rather than waiting for the Supreme Court ruling, we should urge our Congressional delegation to support legislation prohibiting a citizenship question on the census. It violates the Constitution and serves no legitimate purpose. The 2020 Census IDEA Act, H.R. 732, will do just that. Our Senators and Congressmen should support this bill.

Each city and county should reach out to immigrants, refugees, homeless folks and college students to urge that they participate in the census. It would be a great way for communities to come together and realize how much we have in common. Maybe, by asking these folks to participate in this sort of joint venture, we could get to know them better and learn of their needs and talents. They might feel more a part of the Idaho community. We can and should let them know that we care and that they need not be fearful of taking part in this traditional decennial count of the population and otherwise taking part in community affairs.

Madison County and Rexburg have launched a joint effort to ensure an accurate census count. The Rexburg Mayor estimates that the city will miss out on $3,500-$4,000 in state and federal funds each year for every person not counted in the upcoming census. The city is letting college students at BYU-Idaho know that they can be counted in Idaho, even if they come from out of state. They just need to live in Idaho most of the year. The city has claimed it lost upwards of $20 million as a result of a 5,000 undercount of students in the 2010 census.

The 2020 head count in Idaho is important to the future of our State and we should all work toward making it a fair, honest and accurate process. The census is a constitutional responsibility and no place for political chicanery.

• • •

Jim Jones is former Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court. His earlier columns can be found at: https://JJCommonTater.com.

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