Once every decade, our government carries out a constitutionally mandated counting of all the citizens living in the United States. The data collected from this census plays a direct determining role in how federal funding is allocated to the states, as well as how many seats each state has in the House of Representatives.
However, in much the same way that 2020 has not been like every other year, this has not been like any other Census. The outbreak of a deadly and unfamiliar pandemic in combination with a slew of natural disasters has created new and challenging hurdles, as has already been on full display as our nation grapples with how to carry out a presidential election while dealing with everything currently afflicting the nation.
Despite all of these challenges, the Census is still set to complete its collection on September 30 this year, a daunting task given how difficult the COVID-19 pandemic has made it to collect comprehensive and accurate information. Even after months of work, many states, particularly some rural states, are continuing to struggle with making sure that everyone is counted.
If we truly want this year’s Census to paint an accurate picture of our nation, the solution is clear: Congress must pass the bipartisan legislation to push back the data collection deadline past September 30. By allowing for even one more month, we could drastically improve the accuracy of the results and guarantee that every state receives the appropriate level of funding and representation. This is common sense in a year like this.
Should that not occur, the effects would be significant. Per recent Congressional research, states stand to lose hundreds of millions in federal funding if the Census miscounts their population by even a single percentage point. These are tax dollars that citizens in these states have faithfully paid to help fund better public education, build stronger healthcare systems, set up more stable infrastructure, and ultimately forge a stronger economy for the future. Given the nationwide economic downturn, this is the moment to help guarantee the right levels of funding for struggling communities and families across the country.
Unfortunately, many of the states currently facing the greatest struggles in gathering responses for the Census have the most to lose if they are undercounted. Having spoken with Arizonans from all over the state, I know that they do not feel their voices are being heard on Capitol Hill, and that trend will only continue unless the Census deadline is pushed back beyond September 30. Why? Because largely liberal coastal states are among those reporting the greatest census completion rates. If that holds up, they will only gather more seats in the House of Representatives and wield more influence over our federal government. President Trump has worked hard to guarantee that this process is as fair and accurate as possible so that it best represents hard-working Americans, but we can only do that if a complete count is carried out.
Thankfully, the Senators and Representatives for these states can play a direct role in preventing that from happening. Leaders in Congress like Tim Scott (R-SC), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and so many others can be part of a bipartisan push by Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and others to allow for a more accurate census by moving back the deadline for collecting responses. This will help to demonstrate for their constituents that they are continuing work to amplify their voices in the halls of government, and will position their states strongly for the next ten years.
The Census is the means by which we ensure that our government is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people. Unless it involves a full and accurate count, then the Census cannot fulfill this central purpose. To guarantee that it does, we need members from both parties in Congress to step in and allow for enough time for it to be completed in as thorough a fashion as possible.
Robert Graham is the former chairman of the Republican Party of Arizona and served as a senior adviser to President Trump’s 2016 campaign.