By: J. D. Longstreet
We have been warning for months now that we feel the presidential election of 2008 was the last “free” election this country will ever see. I must tell you, the Obama administration is doing nothing to ease my mind and, in fact, continues to make moves that solidify our belief that the 2010 election, and elections beyond, will be nothing more than shams.
With the White House controlling the US Census, opportunities for cooking the numbers, any numbers, are abundant. Some are calling Obama’s grab for the census "the biggest White House power grab ever.” Earlier, Republicans in the US House of Representatives said the White House had "an unprecedented plan" for the census that "will taint results and open doors to massive waste of taxpayer funds.”
So… what the heck is going on? I mean, this is the C E N S U S, already! Why is the census so almighty important to one side, or the other, in DC?
Well, it turns out there really is a red hot power struggle going on between Republicans and Democrats over which party will control the 2010 census. Mostly below the radar, it hasn’t gained much notice… until now.
Remember, it has been 30 years since the last census was taken under a democratic administration. You may recall that when Republican Senator Judd Gregg announced, a few days ago, that he no longer wanted to be the US Secretary of Commerce nominee he said that the decision was based, in part, on serious disagreements with the Obama White House over the 2010 census. Yep, that’s what he said… and it flew right past my head without me even seeing it!
Turns out the fur began to fly on the democratic side of the aisle upon the announcement that Gregg, a Republican, would be in charge of the head count. Finally, Obama’s people had to issue a statement that, yeah, Gregg would be in charge, but… he would be “working CLOSELY with White House Senior Management.”
Well, that statement rankled folks on BOTH sides of the aisle up to, and including Gregg! Some on the left saw it as a change in policy. On the right, they saw it as a “power grab.” Nobody was happy and everybody, it seems, was PO’ed…. again, up to and including Gregg. It was along about this point when the White House issued a statement that: "this administration has not proposed removing the Census from the Department of Commerce." So that clarified everything and everybody settled down, right? Well… NO.
Now, you gotta ask… why the heck is counting heads so dad-blamed important, anyway?
To give you a broad answer… it goes something like this: Republicans tend to favor “undercounts” while Democrats tend to favor “overcounts.”
Still don’t get it?
OK. Lemme try again: Turns out that overcounts and undercounts can result in vastly different numbers for demographic groups and localities — and they have huge political and policy implications. Basically this fight is over WHOM the census counts and HOW the census goes about counting them.
The US Constitution demands that every ten years the government must count heads to learn how many Americans there really are. It has been done every ten years since 1790. Counting Americans is and always has been a real pain in the posterior! America is a fluid society. Americans are aways, it seems, in motion. The Census Bureau first mails out those aggravating questionnaires Americans are supposed to fill out and send back in. Then, the bureau sends out “census takers” to hunt down those folks who did not send their questionnaire back and/or those people living in US unknown to the government. See, the census is supposed to determine how many people are living in the United States, both legals and illegals. They will try to visit those folks who have not returned the questionnaire and they must also try to count people who have no address such as the “homeless”, and prisoners, and the elderly in nursing homes and such. Needless to say, there are folks living in the US who had rather the government, or the government’s minions, not know they are here. So they get scarce until the census takers move on. And, of course, there are folks who had rather the government knew as little about them as possible. Children, we have learned, are often left out of census figures. To put it mildly, it ain’t easy!
People get left out. Even whole communities get left out of the head count and some communities get counted more than once, some multiple times. Again, to put it mildly, it is a mess! Back in 1990 some 8 million people were not counted. Wait, that is an estimate. The truth is… they STILL don’t know, for sure, how many people were not counted. Some 4 million white folks were counted twice… uh… they think.
We’ve learned the Census Bureau uses statistical modeling and sampling methods to come up with estimated counts of many, many, demographic groups in the country but the argument about the accuracy of those methods grinds ever onward as to whether the estimates generated by those methods actually make the census more accurate or less accurate. The argument is substantive enough that the Supreme Court decided, back in 1999, that estimates generated from sampling could not be used for reapportionment of congressional seats.
Here’s the thing: redistricting of local districts and reapportionment of congressional seats is based on census counts. See, a state could pick up a seat(s) or lose a seat(s) based on its population. The size, and sometimes the shapes, of political districts within a state are determined by population increases, decreases, and shifts within the state itself. Remember, redrawing political boundaries is based on the census numbers. You can easily see how a political party’s influence in a state, and the Congress, is affected by the census count.
And then there is the money. Those same census numbers help to determine which states get how much, or how little, federal money in federal grants and other federal disbursements of money. Democrats say Republicans deliberately undercount to keep money from cash starved communities. Republicans say democrats overcount to create new congressional districts favorable to them, to keep them in power. Plus, the Republicans say the sampling method is unconstitutional since the constitution calls for an actual count, not estimates generated by some mathematical formula.
So, the fight over the 2010 census has just begun. It will get worse as we get closer to the actual counting. You can look for the “F” word… “fraud”… to be thrown around a lot. Since the Democrats own the White House, this time around, look for them to be on the receiving end of the vast majority of the slings and arrows of the latest decennial debate.
J. D. Longstreet