Donald Trump’s administration engaged in “unprecedented” interference in the national census, according to a newly disclosed email that reveals how officials attempted to meddle in a project that helps determined political representation and distribution of government resources for a decade.
According to an email memo authored by a deputy director at the Census Bureau, the administration not only sought to stop the 2020 census count early, as had been previously reported, but also exerted pressure on the Census Bureau to change its procedures for ensuring accurate data and protecting Americans’ privacy. The memo was first reported by NPR.
Census Bureau Deputy Director Ron Jarmin shared a memo with two other top census officials in Sept. 2020, sounding a warning that Trump political appointees in the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, were “demonstrating an unusually high degree of engagement in technical matters.” This engagement, the memo said, was “unprecedented relative to the previous censuses.”
The memo was obtained by the Brennan Center for Justice in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The documents the Brennan Center obtained, “suggest that the Trump administration attempted to exert extreme partisan influence over the Census Bureau,” the center said in a statement.
The Trump administration ended the 2020 census count early in part because it hoped that if Trump lost the election, he could use the census population estimates to reapportion representation in the House while still in power, according to The New York Times. By concluding the once-per-decade counting early, the census was likely to miss harder to reach populations such as immigrants, and could have undercounted as many as 6.5 million people, mostly from “Hispanic, immigrant and foreign-born populations,” former Census Bureau directors testified to Congress. To further favor the GOP in reapportionment, the Trump administration insisted that undocumented immigrants be counted separately from the population. The administration also tried to add a citizenship question to the census but was overruled by a federal judge.
The bureau’s top staff said they were “also concerned by the level of [the administration’s] direct engagement with the methodology” of the census, which they said was the responsibility of the Census Bureau as an independent agency, and not the president’s administration. “While the presidential memorandum may be a statement of the administration’s policy,” the memo said, “the Census Bureau views the development of the methodology and processes as its responsibility as an independent statistical agency.”
Data from the census affects congressional representation and the drawing of electoral districts, but it also determines how much funding each community will receive from trillions of federal dollars for critical services, such as schools, roads, hospitals, and fire departments.