Our Opinion: Galvin sounds warning on corruption of census

The U.S. census, the decennial head-count of all those living within the borders of the United States, should be above political influence. According to federal law, all inhabitants — citizens, legal and illegal immigrants, even the homeless — must be included, following the rationale that everyone uses infrastructure, services and anything else requiring government funding. The statistics gleaned by mail-in census responses, painstaking door-to-door visits and follow-ups are used, for example, in apportioning government funds and determining Congressional representation .

For this reason, it is as egregious as vote-manipulation when anyone — particularly the executive branch — seeks to skew census figures in order to further a particular partisan policy or ideology. Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, who is the official state liaison for the federal census, came forward this week to charge the Trump administration with attempting to put a red-tinged thumb on the census scale, alleging that Trump administration policy is to hinder a proper count in blue states in order to deny them funding.

Massachusetts has an inordinate number of out-of-state college students. According to Debra O'Malley, a spokeswoman for Mr. Galvin's office, the federal government only recently determined that college students who spend a majority of their year going to school should be counted as part of the host state's population.

Census Day is April 1, 2020, when in theory everyone is supposed to have been counted, one way or another. College students are notoriously lax about responding to the head-count, so in the past, the census has done follow-ups until the end of April in order to include them. The new rules now allow follow-ups to continue until the end of August, which will miss a lot of students who are home for the summer. In Berkshire County, whose 2015 population (the latest figure available) was 127, 828, the student body of Williams College — overwhelmingly comprising out-of-state students — is 2,076, a not-insignificant number to be missed when it comes to qualifying for precious state and federal funding.

Second, there are the immigrants. Hispanics and Latinos alone count for almost 11 percent of the state's population. This is another underrepresented group, for language reasons as well as for fear that responding to any government survey will attract unwanted attention. Just last week, according to Mr. Galvin's office, the federal government reversed a policy that had allowed states to hire census workers who weren't citizens but had valid work permits. This will severely cut down on the pool of foreign language-speaking census takers who can penetrate foreign communities and earn their trust.

Third, the administration is mulling including a question on the census form asking whether the respondent is a citizen — a sure-fire way to drive down responses. Considering that cities like Lawrence and Springfield are now almost 80 percent and 43 percent Hispanic or Latino, respectively, this opens a potential chasm of accuracy big enough to swallow millions of federal dollars.

Mr. Galvin has suggested that if he sees no reversal on these census policies, he may urge the attorney general to sue the federal government for relief. In order to strengthen his case, he would be wise to approach other states with similar grievances and join forces in this most critical battle.


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