A newly disclosed memorandum citing “unprecedented” meddling by the Trump administration in the 2020 census and circulated among top Census Bureau officials indicates how strongly they sought to resist efforts by the administration to manipulate the count for Republican political gain.
The document was shared among three senior executives including Ron S. Jarmin, a deputy director and the agency’s day-to-day head. It was written in September 2020 as the administration was pressing the bureau to end the count weeks early so that if President Donald J. Trump lost the election in November, he could receive population estimates used to reapportion the House of Representatives before leaving office.
The memo laid out a string of instances of political interference that senior census officials planned to raise with Wilbur Ross, who was then the secretary of the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau. The issues involved crucial technical aspects of the count, including the privacy of census respondents, the use of estimates to fill in missing population data, pressure to take shortcuts to produce population totals quickly and political pressure on a crash program that was seeking to identify and count unauthorized immigrants.
Most of those issues directly affected the population estimates used for reapportionment. In particular, the administration was adamant that — for the first time ever — the bureau separately tally the number of undocumented immigrants in each state. Mr. Trump had ordered the tally in a July 2020 presidential memorandum, saying he wanted to subtract them from House reapportionment population estimates.
The census officials’ memorandum pushed back especially forcefully, complaining of “direct engagement” by political appointees with the methods that experts were using to find and count unauthorized noncitizens.
“While the presidential memorandum may be a statement of the administration’s policy,” the memo stated, “the Census Bureau views the development of the methodology and processes as its responsibility as an independent statistical agency.”
Kenneth Prewitt, a Columbia University public-affairs scholar who ran the Census Bureau from 1998 to 2001, said in an interview that the careful bureaucratic language belied an extraordinary pushback against political interference.
“This was a very, very strong commitment to independence on their part,” he said. “They said, ‘We’re going to run the technical matters in the way we think we ought to.’”
The officials’ objections, he said, only underscored the need for legislation to shield the Census Bureau from political interference well before the 2030 census gets underway. “I’m very worried about that,” he said.
See here and here for some background; I wrote about Census-related topics and shenanigans a lot while it was happening. We got lucky this time around, but there’s no reason to believe our luck will hold. My advice would be to put some criminal penalties in for the various forms of interference and intimidation that the Trump thugs used, and don’t require proof of intent for the crime to have occurred. My advice would also be to prioritize democracy and good governance over ant-democratic Senate trivia, but what do I know? Texas Public Radio and Mother Jones have more.