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Opinion: California Secretary of State Alex Padilla on the 2020 Census

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Since the very first census in 1790, the constitutionally required population count has attempted to survey everyone from every corner of the country to determine equitable distribution of federal funding as well as congressional representation.

This includes historically hard-to-count communities, like the many living in California. We’re talking about the poor, the elderly, students and people of color.

Now the Trump administration is working deliberately to undermine the accuracy of the count. California can’t afford to sit idly by while this administration sabotages the census.

And we won’t.

By now, the U.S. Census Bureau should be much further along in its planning and preparation for the 2020 census. Intentional underfunding by Congress has caused the cancellation of two out of three field tests and raises concerns about the move to online surveying. We must ensure that a digital census is properly tested and accounts for the digital divide in America.

Notably, U.S. Census Director John H. Thompson resigned last May amid fears of underfunding. Almost a year later, the president has yet to appoint a permanent replacement.

More ominously, the Department of Justice recently requested the addition of a citizenship question on the census to purportedly enforce the anti-discrimination section of the Voting Rights Act.

This is the same DOJ, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that has starkly reversed course on several voting rights and has advocated positions that would make it harder for eligible citizens from the same hard-to-count communities to register and vote in elections.

A census undercount would be a blow to California’s economy. We stand to lose billions of dollars in funding for critical services such as health care, education and transportation. In 2017 alone, for example, California received $3.8 billion in federal highway funding and, in 2016, we received $2.4 billion for our Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Manipulative census questions that discourage many Californians from participating would also jeopardize our congressional representation. California might lose a seat in the House of Representatives, literally diminishing our voice in Congress.

I can only conclude that this administration’s objective is to discourage large segments of our diverse population from participating in the census. How else can we explain the deliberate underfunding, understaffing and under-testing of the census?

Too much is at stake for Californians to sit on the sidelines. Here’s how we fight to ensure an accurate count:

  • We call on our congressional delegation, beginning with Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to fully fund the census. Every day that goes by without adequate funding is one less day we have to prepare.
  • We demand that the president appoint a credible census director with a trusted record of inclusivity and results. That director must accept public input and assure the country that the new online surveys have been properly tested — and that they work.
  • We oppose the Department of Justice’s request to add a citizenship question, as it would only serve to intimidate our non-citizen population.
  • We support Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed $40.3 million in state funding for census outreach planning. This would allow us to lay the foundation for augmented outreach to the hard-to-count communities in our state.
  • And we begin to educate and engage the public. In collaboration with local governments, foundations, business leaders, labor unions, nonprofit organizations and others, we can launch a public education campaign that corrects misinformation and calms fears across the state.


No matter how hard this president tries, California won’t be silenced. Our children will count. Our workers will count. Our veterans will count. And yes, our immigrants will count.

Alex Padilla is California secretary of state.

Published by: The Mercury News
Alex Padilla
Date: January 30, 2018

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