Politics & Government

‘Boycott that question.’ Citizen query unnecessary, says chair of state Census committee

The chairman of Washington state’s effort to get a complete count in the 2020 Census says he’s advising people to not answer a question about citizenship that the Trump administration wants included on the form.

“I’m encouraging people to boycott that question. I’m not going to fill out that one question,” said former Gov. Gary Locke, who was the U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration during the 2010 Census. The Commerce Department administers the Census.

“I adamantly oppose the inclusion of that citizenship question,” added Locke, who is chairman of the Washington State Complete Count Committee. “There’s absolutely no need for it. The Commerce Department uses other surveys every year that help determine the percentage of people who are citizens in the United States.”

Tara Lee, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said his administration is not encouraging people to boycott any of the questions.

Inslee appointed the Complete Count Committee to support and advise state officials on how best to ensure an accurate count of all Washington residents. State officials began preparing for the Census in 2016.

Locke said people still will be counted if they skip the citizenship question and he said the Census Bureau won’t send people door-to-door if one question is not answered.

Reached for comment, a Census Bureau official spokesman emailed a statement.

“Your response to every 2020 Census question matters. Each is used to shape the future of the nation. Because each question is important — anytime you leave one blank — you increase the likelihood of a phone call or visit from a Census taker,” according to the statement. “Additionally, Census responses are safe, secure and protected by federal law. Answers can only be used to produce statistics. Every Census Bureau employee takes an oath to protect information received from respondents.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a legal challenge that says the citizenship question is unconstitutional because it will lower participation in the mandated count of every U.S. resident. It would be the first time since 1950 that the question has been on the standard Census form.

Lee, the Inslee spokeswoman, said the governor is “gravely concerned by efforts to erase immigrant communities and communities of color — including the citizenship question — which threaten to dilute these communities’ political power and their access to critical resources such as health care, education, transportation and foster care.”

“In addition to determining our congressional representation, Census data guides $13.7 billion in federal funds to Washington every year, and for every household missed by the count, the state loses an estimated $4,800 in annual per capita funding,” Lee said in a written statement. “That’s why the governor is so committed to a complete count in Washington. We need to make sure everyone in our state understands their participation in the Census is crucial to getting the representation and resources they deserve.”

The Trump administration has said the citizenship question is needed to protect the voting rights of racial minorities.

State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, said the Republican Party wants the data to try to “rig” the drawing of congressional districts.

Caleb Heimlich, chairman of the Washington state Republican Party, said citizenship is a “reasonable question to ask.” He said he wasn’t aware of a GOP redistricting strategist, Thomas Hofeller, who wrote in a 2015 report that adding the question would be “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” Hofeller, who died last year, wrote an early draft of the Trump administration’s request for the citizenship question.

“I think for public discourse and public debate, it’s reasonable to have the information of what the citizenship number is in our country,” said Heimlich. “How many are there?”

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