Sam Burnham, Curator
You've probably heard that the 2020 US Census is planned to include an old question on it. The census form will ask people living in the US if they are citizens. The question was asked on the form until 1950 when it was removed. The Justice Department is claiming that the information is needed to ensure the proper enforcement of certain portions of the Voting Rights Act.
Some states, including California and Massachusetts are trying to block the question from the forms. They are claiming that the question is unconstitutional, although the move would simply shift
the question used on the annual forms of the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. The ACS is a continuing survey that gathers census information and provides data to assist the bureau in producing an accurate census every 10 years.
States squabbling and arguing over the counting of groups by the census are not new. They predate the cesus itself. So let's take a look at history to see what is happening.
When the Average of 1 & 0 Equaled 3/5
Much of what happens in politics today passes muster because we misunderstand history and wind up getting fool by the same arguments, simply readjusted for a modern agenda. There is a lot of talk about how slaves were once counted as 3/5 of a person. I even saw a comment on Twitter the other evening that "The Second Amendment was written by a slaveholder who thought a black man was only 3/5 human." There is way too much ignorance in that one statement to really get into it today and I want to stay on topic. So let's stick to the 3/5 part.
In crafting the Constitution, the Founders created the House of Representatives. Each state in the new nation would send a delegation to Congress with the number of representatives being determined by the state's population. The more people in a state, the more representatives they would send. The census would give the government the population data needed to properly apportion representation.
Then came the question of slavery. Slaves would not be permitted to vote, were not citizens, and did not live in the North at all. They also contributed to the economy, used roads, bridges, etc, and made up a sizable percentage of the Southern population - in many areas outnumbering whites. The Norther representation would be higher if slaves were not counted and they lobbied to have each slave counted in the census as 0. The South, knowing that their representation was going to be greatly increased by the large slave population, lobbied that, unlike every other area in life, each slave should count the same as a free white man, they should count as 1.
Simple as this sounds to modern ears, this almost brought down the Republic before it was even born. This was a no deal situation. Both sides were willing to walk away. So a compromise was struck. The North did not get the 0 they wanted and the South did not get their 1. The founders added 1 and 0 then averaged the two and determined that certain people would count in the census as 3/5 of a person.
Next Verse, Same as the First
Enter California and their heavy non-citizen population. Numbers I heard on NPR's 1A yesterday indicate that California has a non-citizen population of around 13%. If their fear is correct and non-citizens refuse to respond to the census because they fear the government is using the data to track down illegals, this census could result in a 13% drop (or higher) in California's official population. That could cost them a representative in Congress, That house seat would likely go to a growing state like Texas, Florida, Georgia, or Arizona.
Because the census counts the individuals that live in a state, and not just the citizens, all of the population, every resident, counts for apportionment in federal and state legislatures, as well as how grants and other government spending is distributed. So in addition to the loss of a congressman, Los Angeles and San Francisco could lose state representation to more rural areas, federal spending in California might be cut while California's tax burden goes unchanged.
On the other hand, as California harbors illegal aliens in their bug cities, they are inflating their population and costing others states the representation and money that California is trying to protect. While there are many legal residents who are not citizens, the census also counts people who are in the US illegally and they are included in the totals. So California is benefiting from refusing to enforce federal law.
You can see how this is a mess.
Who knows where this mess will end? Hopefully with the rule of law prevailing but without people legally in the US being scared by a census form.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire