2020 census

Trump Planned to Break the Census, Just Not This Way

Photo: Dario Lopez-MIlls/AP/Shutterstock

Years of Trump administration efforts to undermine the 2020 census have, unsurprisingly, damaged the once-in-a-decade head count that determines the allotment of $1.5 trillion in federal spending and how many Congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state will have. Unfortunately for the Trump administration, the plan to break the massively complicated process — in order to limit the legal inclusion of undocumented migrants in the tally — didn’t take into account the possibility that it might break against them.

On Thursday, Census Bureau director Steve Dillingham announced that “processing anomalies” in the counting stage have put the project nearly a month behind schedule. According to the New York Times, the bureau now expects to complete its initial population calculations by January 26 at the earliest, instead of the intended December 31 deadline — meaning that the Biden administration will most likely be involved before the count is done.

In a normal census, the release of the first set of calculations would need to be certified by Congress on the first day of the session, on January 10. But with Biden now expected to get involved, Trump most likely won’t have the opportunity to close out his effort to skew a census his administration has been trying to weight in Republicans’ favor for over two years. According to the Times, if the census bureau under Biden disavows the slipshod methods it adopted under the current White House, that “would likely become an important factor in the ongoing litigation over the Trump administration’s plan.”

“This is not surprising to me at all,” Robert Santos, president-elect of the American Statistical Association, told the Associated Press. “The notion that the 2020 Census data could be processed in half the time scheduled given all the obstacles & challenges that Census Bureau encountered defies logic.” Some of the historic challenges the bureau faced were an active hurricane season in the southeast, a raging year of wildfires in the west, and a pandemic which made it all the more reasonable for Americans not to answer strangers door-knocking for the census. This list of natural and ecological challenges does not include an administration that was hostile to the very act of proper census-taking — whether by attempting to add a citizenship question, considering to delay the process entirely, trying to remove undocumented immigrants already counted with some shoddy math, or by ending counting operations a month earlier than planned. This last ploy, along with the decision to shorten the Census Bureau’s counting timeline by four months, appears to have backfired.

Though Trump most likely won’t be able to put the finishing touches on the census, his attempts to weight it to be more favorable to more rural and white areas of the country have already paid off. Over the past year, reports throughout the country have emerged in which undocumented migrants have described their fears of retaliation. Between this suppression, the shortened timeline, and mailing out deceptive forms with the potential to confuse residents in Democratic counties into thinking they’ve filled out the census, it’s only a question of how much these efforts succeeded.

Trump Planned to Break the Census, Just Not This Way