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Census: The challenge of counting everyone

Since the Census Act of 1790 mandated “a just and perfect enumeration and description of all persons,” the nation has set about every 10 years to count the people of the United States in accordance with the Enumeration Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

This count, “of all persons,” not only determines the number of representatives each state sends to the House of Representatives, but in modern times also affects the allocation of about $675 billion in federal funding. In other words, to get a fair share of both political representation and federal aid, a state and region must do a good job counting.

Unfortunately, that task is made difficult by the harsh immigration rhetoric of the Trump Administration. The administration’s effort to include a question as to whether a census responder is a citizen, though struck down by the courts, had to shake the confidence of non-citizens to come forward.

And while, by law, the Census Bureau cannot release information that would identify individuals, those who are not legally in the country, or who have family members with questionable immigration status, can hardly be faulted for fearing that this administration, with its aggressive posture toward enforcement, will not play by the rules.

But by law and based on judicial interpretation of the constitutional enumeration requirement, all should be counted. Cities provide the same level of services— police, fire, schooling, emergency medical aid — to undocumented immigrants as they do to U.S. citizens.

An additional challenge is the influx of U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico, relocated due to the series of disasters that have stricken that territory, but who will prove difficult to count given their itinerant status.

While this year’s census is the first offered online, it will be the door-to-door, neighbor-to-neighbor connections that will result in a more accurate count. We applaud those who have stepped forward as volunteers to help, joining an army of paid census counters, and urge individuals to consider how they can contribute.

It is vitally important for the region and state that any undercount is kept to a minimum.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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