Census Citizenship Question Would Distort Our Representative Democracy


On Tuesday, CLC submitted comments urging the Department of Commerce not to include a proposed citizenship question on its 2020 Census because it would significantly lower and skew response rates, leading to an undercount of minority communities, which are already harder to count. An inaccurate and skewed Census count will undermine the right of all Americans to equal representation.

The Constitution mandates that the whole number of people in every state be counted every ten years. The results of the Census are then used to apportion seats in Congress among the states, according to population.

Adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census will hinder its ability to provide an accurate snapshot of our nation’s population and is likely to perpetuate distortions in our representative democracy by undercounting minority communities. An inquiry about citizenship status from the government is all but certain to raise concern among non-citizens—both documented and undocumented—and households comprising a combination of citizens and non-citizens, making these communities less likely to respond to the Census.

Indeed, the Census Bureau’s chief scientist concluded in an internal memorandum that adding this question will be “very costly,” will “harm the quality of the Census count,” and will result in “substantially less accurate citizenship status data than are available from administrative sources.” Six former Census Bureau directors, who served under both Democratic and Republican administrations, have also raised serious concerns about the inadequate testing that has been done to determine the effect of adding the citizenship question. Given the overwhelming consensus of experts of the imprudence of this decision, the Census Bureau should remove the question.