submitted by Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera, Common Cause MN Executive Director

In 1776, our founding fathers chose a democratic system of government. What is less commonly known is that they also incorporated a mechanism ensuring an equitable way for our democratic system to be inclusive and responsive to the needs of its states. This mechanism is the census. 

Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution mandates participation of states in the census every 10 years. Among other things, the census data is used in population apportionment for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Census data also is used to funnel about $589 billion in federal spending to local communities. Our federal government relies on it when shaping policies and creating programs. Private and public entities use this data when deciding where to invest, and where to locate trauma centers, senior housing, daycare, stores, roads, and companies that need to recruit employees. 

It is easy to see why counting can become politicized. Consider the recent push for a citizenship question. Census staff have warned of its negative impact on preexisting immigrant fears, leading to reduced responses. Why include a question which will potentially lower census participation? States with larger immigrant populations could lose congressional seat(s) and significant portions of that $589 billion. 

Information about place of birth, citizenship, and year of entry into the United States is already collected by the U.S. Census Bureau using the American Community Survey. It is used to set and evaluate immigration policies, and to enforce laws against discrimination based on national origin. Prior administrations, Republican and Democrats, have enforced the Voting Rights Act without needing a citizenship question on the census. 

A person’s legal status is not information critical to the core function of the census. When policies or actions work to discourage or intimidate pockets of our communities, everyone suffers. Undercounted groups translate into loss of state and community investments, as well as representation in government. 

Take a pledge to ensure that those in your network fill out the census.