Is the 2020 Census Too Hard to Count?

On Tuesday, October 13, 2020, the Supreme Court granted the Trump Administration permission to end the 2020 census count. The 10-year national survey ended its count on Thursday, October 15, at midnight, Hawaii time. The deadline put an end to the influx of online replies to the census through various forums such as, phone responses, and paper forms. Following this crucial SCOTUS decision, only a dissenting justice. Justice Sonia Sotomayor gave a reason for her decision.


Counting the census this year has already been incredibly tricky. There have been constant interruptions due to the pandemic, court rulings, and the California wildfires. Why, then, has there been such an emphasis on keeping the census count going? The decennial census is integral in deciding how many seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. It is used to disperse $675 billion in federal funding for schools, hospitals, roads, etc. to communities who need it most. These numbers will also help establish how many Electoral College votes each state has for the 2024 and 2028 presidential elections. 


As a result of these complications, there have been numerous deadline changes. The census count was initially supposed to end on July 31st. However, when the coronavirus pandemic impacted data collection, a lower court ordered the Census Bureau to push the deadline to October 31st. This gave the Bureau until April 2021 to report their results to the President; however, with the new Supreme Court ruling, the organization faces immense pressure to report by December 31, 2020. Yet, allowing the Bureau to have more time would give the Bureau a more accurate and complete count that is representative of the national population. An article by NPR illustrates this potential inaccuracy by reporting that as of July 2020, “About 4 out of 10 households [had] still not participated in the constitutionally mandated count of every person living in the U.S., and self-response rates are even lower in many communities.” Despite the risk of inaccurate data, the Trump Administration proclaimed that the count needed to end as soon as possible so that the U.S Census Bureau had ample time to determine how many congressional seats each state should receive. Interestingly enough, there is speculation about the Trump administration’s real reason for wanting to rush the count. Some say that Trump wants to administer the assignment of the House of Representative seats and others say that he wants to keep undocumented immigrant representation out of the count.


Since the census is so critical to everyday life, many are worried about this ruling’s implications. Some have argued that the Court’s decision will negatively impact marginalized groups such as people of color, immigrants, low-income individuals, Native American reservations, residents of rural communities, and children under five. If these populations are undercounted, they will not receive their fair dividend of funding and will not be accurately represented politically. The Census Bureau website states: “Your community benefits the most when the census counts everyone. When you respond to the census, you help your community gets its fair share of the more than $675 billion per year in federal funds spent on schools, hospitals, roads, public works, and other vital programs.” Nonetheless, after SCOTUS’s decision to rush the count, there is no doubt that these already underrepresented groups will receive even less representation and resources due to the data’s anticipated inaccuracy. Sotomayor, in her dissent, wrote how “The harms caused by rushing this years’ census count are irreparable. And respondents will suffer their lasting impact for at least the next ten years.” This ruling can help us realize how integral the census is, not only for our nation’s government but also for specific populations who continue to and will continue to face economic hardships at the hands of our president’s administration.