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Marsha Mercer column: Yes, we do count in census, elections
Civic and Personal Interest

Marsha Mercer column: Yes, we do count in census, elections

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2020 Census New York

Earlier this week, people walked along a busy street in New York. The state will lose one seat in Congress as a result of national population shifts, according to census data released Monday.

Dozens of New Yorkers probably are kicking themselves for not filling out their census forms this past year.

The Empire State is losing a congressional seat by 89 people. That’s not a typo.

If the census had counted just 89 more New Yorkers, the state would have retained its 27 seats in Congress, the U.S. Census Bureau reported this week.

The once-a-decade census might seem an administrative chore, but it’s in people’s self-interest to participate, even during a pandemic.

The census determines congressional seats for each state by population. It also allocates each state’s share of more than $800 billion in federal funds — your tax money — each year for food stamps, health care, housing assistance, job training and other services.

Census numbers also are used to create districts for the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures, which often draw redistricting maps for future elections. The bureau will release detailed numbers this summer to guide redistricting efforts.

So, don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t matter if you fill out your census form — or if you vote. Elections also often are won — and lost — on the margins.

A handful of states could have changed the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Joe Biden won the White House because he flipped several states Donald Trump won in 2016 — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

In Arizona, Biden won by just under 10,500 votes out of nearly 3.4 million votes cast. Another audit — or recount of votes by hand — began April 23 in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, and is expected to last until May 14.

No widespread election fraud has been found in Arizona or anywhere else, and the audit will not change the outcome of the election there, state officials say. Claims on the internet that the audit has found 250,000 fraudulent votes are false, according to USA Today fact-checkers.

In Georgia, Biden won with about 11,780 more votes than Trump out of 5 million votes cast. Several recounts there confirmed Biden’s win.

We’ll never know for sure how many New Yorkers, or Californians for that matter, failed to fill out their census forms. California is losing a congressional seat for the first time. Also losing one seat each are Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The big census winner is Texas, which is gaining two House seats. Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon each gain one seat.

Virginia, where growth slowed over the past decade, held onto its 11 congressional seats.

Since Republicans need a net gain of only five seats to take back control of the U.S. House of Representatives from Democrats in 2022, the census particularly is significant this year.

New York gained population in the past decade, but other states grew at a faster rate, which means the New York delegation will shrink to 26 House seats.

“It’s obviously not desirable, and the last thing we want to do is to lose representation in Washington,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “So it’s not good news for the state.”

Cuomo is weighing a lawsuit to contest the count, although it’s an uphill fight. New York unsuccessfully has sued in the past over lost congressional seats.

Cuomo’s critics blame him for not doing more to gin up participation in the census during the pandemic. He blames the federal government for a chilling effect on participation.

Hispanic groups believe Hispanics were undercounted in key states like Arizona, Texas and Florida. They contend then-President Trump’s efforts to put a question about respondents’ citizenship on the census discouraged immigrants from participating.

After two dozen states and many cities sued the Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Commerce, the administration withdrew the question.

The Census Bureau indicated it was confident apportionment numbers were correct. Most states’ official population tallies were within 1 percentage point of independent projections.

It’s too late for the 2020 census, but voters in Virginia will pick a new governor, members of the House of Delegates, mayors and other local officials this November. An independent commission is redrawing state district maps for future elections.

Not only is it in our civic interest to participate in the census and to vote, it’s in our personal interest. Let your voice be heard.

Marsha Mercer writes from Washington. Contact her at:

© 2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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