More Than Numbers: 2020 Census
It’s that time of the decade. Every ten years, the US Census Bureau sets out to complete a seemingly impossible task – to gather basic demographic data on everyone living in the United States. During the last census, in 2010, the effort employed 635,000 people to help collect data . That number is expected to be even larger this year, with census canvassing beginning on April 1.
The questions on the 2020 Census ask for basic personal information such as age, sex, race, address and telephone number . Federally, this data is used for a process called apportionment, which ensures that each congressional district represents approximately the same number of people. While this function of the census is relatively straightforward and objective, Census data also informs more complicated decisions at every level of government.
One important use of Census data is its role in determining funding dispersal for federal programs in the areas of healthcare, education, infrastructure and welfare . Accurate Census counts are key for these programs as they ensure the appropriate amount of funding goes to each community.
Information gathered during the Census is also used in the planning processes for governments, businesses, and nonprofits . Accurate demographic data is crucial in determining the need for new roads, hospitals, schools and other public investments. Further, businesses use Census data to evaluate changes in market demand so they can best fit the needs of the people.
Perhaps the most contentious of these decisions is redistricting, which is the process by which congressional, state and local districts are drawn. This is particularly important in states with rapidly changing demographics, such as Georgia. The Census Bureau estimates that Georgia’s population has grown by 9.6% since 2010 , with people moving primarily to more urban and suburban areas. Because the Georgia of today looks so different from the Georgia of 2010, both demographically and politically, the 2020 Census could have massive repercussions for the state’s political future.
In Georgia, the state legislature is responsible for overseeing the redistricting process. To pass a redistricting plan, a simple majority is required in the state legislature. The implications of this can be troublesome. Because the controlling party gets to draw the lines, it can essentially ensure continued majority status for the foreseeable future through gerrymandering. In other words, because the winners of the game make the rules, they are at a legitimate advantage.
Because the majority following the 2020 election cycle will be in charge of the 2022 redistricting process in Georgia, this election will determine the political landscape in Georgia for the following 10 years.
The last time Georgia went through a redistricting process was 2015, which was five years ahead of schedule due to the aforementioned demographic changes. The plan passed with a Republican majority. In 2018, a federal court found ‘compelling’ evidence of race-based redistricting in the state of Georgia .
Racial gerrymandering is a double-edged sword. While it has historically been used to keep African-American candidates from winning office, it does have the potential to boost minority representation. If districts were drawn to have a majority-minority population, there could be a rise in success for minority candidates. The NAACP has actually advocated for racial gerrymandering as a way to increase diversity in government. As a whole, however, the Supreme Court has ruled against racial gerrymandering and has concluded that districts should not be drawn for racial reasons .
Although most states allow their legislatures to be in charge of redistricting, a few states have enlisted bipartisan or nonpartisan committees to draw their district lines. California, for example, has a 14-member committee that determines their legislative districts. According to the CA Proposition 11, the committee must be composed of 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 4 people belonging to neither party . For a redistricting plan to pass, it needs three votes each from Democrats, Republicans, and commissioners belonging to neither party. An alternative similar to California’s system could help secure fair representation in Georgia’s State Assembly.
One major threat to Census accuracy, and the processes that depend on Census accuracy, is undercounting. Undercounting often occurs as a result of language barriers or mistrust in the federal government. According to Census estimates, about 22% of Georgia (2.26 million people) lives in Hard-to-Count areas, including parts of Athens-Clarke County . It is imperative that these areas, which tend to be underserved, participate in the Census to ensure adequate federal and state funding for programs that may improve physical, mental and economic well being.
Written by: Luke Chandler