Count the 2020 census among the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. But in this rare case, it might work out for the best.
Social isolation and lockdowns to ward off COVID-19 during 2020 worked directly against the Census Bureau’s ability to achieve a comprehensive count. It was difficult even to find enough enumerators to contact people who had not responded to the census online, because of the need to avoid as much personal contact as possible.
So, for the first time in the more than 40 years since Congress imposed a Dec. 31 deadline in census years to report final figures, the Census Bureau will miss the deadline.
According to census documents revealed by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, the bureau likely will not have the figures ready until late January.
That timing would be fortuitous because it would thwart President Donald Trump’s latest gambit to manipulate the census for political gain. He issued a dubious executive order mandating that the census exclude from the final count anyone illegally residing in the country. That contradicts the U.S. constitutional mandate that the census count “all persons” residing in the United States. Trump’s obvious play is to reduce population counts in the large and predominantly blue states with large immigrant populations, to shift congressional apportionment in favor of red states.
If release of the final numbers is delayed until late January, that would enable President-elect Joe Biden, whose inauguration is Jan. 20, to rescind his predecessor’s order and ensure that everyone is counted.
The Supreme Court punted on the issue in December, saying that suits brought by states and cities against the executive order were premature. Thus the delay, if accompanied by a Biden decision to rescind the order, could prevent massive amounts of litigation after the numbers are release.
Census logistics are complex but the mission is simple: count everyone. In this case, the delay can serve the public interest.