By David C. Stout
When we started the Census 2020 journey more than two years ago, I truly believed the battle for a complete count would be against apathy and against logistics.
We have certainly had that. Unfortunately, we have also had larger struggles unfolding in courtrooms across the country, with a count that been more difficult than imagined thanks to the pandemic and to numerous wrong-headed policies the El Paso County Attorney’s Office has opposed.
Now, El Paso County is part of a nationwide coalition fighting to stop the federal government from further risking an undercount by rushing to conclude data collection a month early.
In short, I wish we only had to worry about our hard-to-count areas.
The county has been a named plaintiff in two lawsuits against the federal government, opposing the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the census and another opposing President Trump’s extralegal direction to ignore undocumented immigrants in apportionment.
We won both of those lawsuits, preventing a boondoggle that would have had a chilling effect on local families who rightly would not trust the federal government enough to be counted and catalogued based on nationality.
Meanwhile, the apportionment lawsuit ensured that the census’ purpose, to count the number of people who reside in a given place on April 1 of each new decade, could continue without political interference. The census has never classified residents based on nationality or status, and our victory ensured that would remain the case in 2020.
The census has become a political game, and on Sept. 17, there was a hearing in a third case in which we filed an amicus brief, supporting plaintiffs who have sued to oppose the shortened Sept. 30 deadline.
Every 10 years, our government is required to make a person-by-person count of the population, an enumeration of those who live here and not merely a statistical estimate. The pandemic has undermined that process.
For that reason, the Census Bureau’s pivot to close data collection a month early was yet another example of wrongheaded policy being inserted into a constitutional process. A federal judge temporarily prohibited the Census Bureau from winding down on the new Sept. 30 deadline. We fully expect another victory that will enable a complete count.
Though we have opposed these politically motivated policy mistakes, El Paso County’s opposition has nothing to do with politics. My colleagues on the Commissioners Court and I, along with our counterparts at the city of El Paso, have invested more than $1 million in promoting Census 2020 and pushing for a complete count here in El Paso. That investment will be one of our most strategic in the decennial to come.
This steep investment pales in comparison to what we would lose if El Paso County were undercounted, as it was in 2010. Though our self-response rate has increased by more than 8 percentage points, a huge improvement, recent estimates show we may have as many as 140,000 uncounted people here.
Census-linked federal funding amounts to $1,500 per person per year, and falling short by 140,000 people would be billions less coming into El Paso County for the next 10 years. That’s money we cannot afford to divert into other communities.
The county attorney continues to fight for the right of everyone to be counted, and the least you can do for your community is make sure that struggle hasn’t been in vain. Inaction could cost us billions.
It’s not too late to respond to the census, El Paso.
David C. Stout has represented Precinct 2 on El Paso County Commissioners Court since 2015.