Report: Census takers in Alabama told to cut corners, falsify numbers in last month of count
Census workers in Alabama were told to lie about the occupancy of certain houses when they could not find a way to interview the occupants or neighbors during the frenzied last month of the 2020 count, according to a report published on Monday by The Associated Press.
Text messages between a Census worker and a Census supervisor, both employees of the federal government’s Census Bureau, were procured by the AP. The ground level worker was explicitly told to cut corners and falsify counts by her supervisor, who was located in Dothan.
“We take falsification allegations very seriously,” a spokesman for the Census told the AP, adding that the agency is investigating the case in Alabama.
The Census Bureau has denied in the past other similar allegations of systematized misconduct.
Screenshots of the texts that appear to show improper tactics were shared with the AP by the former Census taker, a resident of Florida sent to Alabama to help with the final weeks of the Census count in Alabama.
The AP reports:
The texted instructions said that if two failed attempts were made to interview members of the households, along with two unsuccessful tries to interview landlords or neighbors about the homes’ residents, then the census takers should mark that a single person lived there.
“You are to clear the case indicating occupied by 1,” said the text from the census supervisor in the small city of Dothan, Alabama.
Census efforts across the country were hampered by the coronavirus pandemic and a tumultuous legal battle in federal court between the Trump administration and advocacy groups over when the count should end.
Within a short time period, Census Bureau employees were told that the official head count would end on October 5, then October 31, then – the date that stuck – October 15.
The messages from the Alabama supervisor were sent during the whiplash-inducing change of deadlines that occurred in early October. The supervisor recommended spending at least two hours trying to ascertain the proper count of residents in a house before resorting to falsifying the records, according to the texts examined by the AP.
“The texts are the latest evidence suggesting census accuracy was sacrificed for speed as census takers and supervisors rushed to complete a head count last month,” the AP notes.
Just days before the final deadline of October 15, Alabama hit 99.9% of estimated response among households, the highest rate of response available and one achieved by most states. The decennial Census has massive implications for where federal funding is distributed and the number of congressional representatives states receive.
Multiple previous reports from the AP show that Alabama was not alone in having some of the Census workers in the state cut corners to try and make the tight deadlines. Workers in Massachusetts and Indiana came forward for a story published on November 7, and workers for 10 other states contacted the outlet soon after.
In Monday’s report, the author says the number of Census workers who contacted the AP with reports of improper behavior is “more than two dozen.” The piece mentions at length allegations of improper data use relayed by a Census supervisor in Baltimore.
The Census Bureau told the AP that when data problems occur, the agency has the latitude to revisit households to make their counts more accurate.