Why limited-government conservatives should participate in the Census
It’s September 5, 2020. You, like most of Alabama, have been waiting months for this day. As summer slowly faded into autumn, the cool evenings punctuating the still-stifling afternoons, you took heart knowing the long months of faint interest in the NBA and baseball were almost gone. Today, after all this time, the drought is finally over: the first Saturday of college football season has arrived.
Just as you’ve settled in, the doorbell rings. Wholeheartedly intending to ignore the unscheduled visitor, your heart sinks when one of your guests (a Tennessee fan) opens the door and calls for you.
Confident you will not be inviting this particular friend over again next weekend, you begrudgingly make your way to the door to see a man with a clipboard and a bag with the words “United States Census Bureau” on both sides.
You politely ask if you could respond later, perhaps online or via the mail. He kindly answers that, yes, that was an option, and then points to a stack of unopened mail on your front table that also reads “Census Bureau.” Point taken.
Being the gracious Southerner you are, you answer his questions and are back watching the game in less than ten minutes.
The truth is that this scenario will likely occur repeatedly during the 2020 Census. While most will comply with the requests of the Census Bureau, there are always those who successfully skirt the eye of the federal government.
For limited-government conservatives, slamming your door on the person who says, “I’m with the federal government and I’d like to ask you a few questions” may indeed be a natural response. It is not, however, considerably helpful, especially to the conservative cause. In fact, Alabamians failing to be counted in the 2020 Census could fuel debilitating blows to the conservative movement, both in Alabama and across the nation.
That’s because the Census is more than an arbitrary headcount. The Census totals, in fact, shape how billions of federal dollars every year are allocated to states for Medicare, SNAP (food stamps), highway construction, and more. In addition, businesses rely heavily on Census data to determine where to build factories, restaurants, and stores. Inaccurate data here could cost jobs and create unnecessary economic hardship.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is that the Census determines how many seats in the U.S. House of Representatives each state gets and, with that number, how votes are allocated in the Electoral College.
Unfortunately, most projections suggest that Alabama will lose a seat in the U.S. House as a result of the 2020 Census. That’s because, although Alabama is growing, it is not growing as fast as other states. The 435 seats in the House, as directed in the Constitution, must be allocated to each state so that each member of Congress represents roughly the same number of people. Since the population is increasing quickly in places like Texas, Oregon and Florida, the reapportionment of congressional seats will likely benefit their interests over ours.
Since states are given votes in the Electoral College by their number of Congressmen (Senate and House), losing a House district would also mean Alabama loses power to determine the U.S. President. This would be, perhaps, the most discouraging byproduct of a low Census count.
Overall, the results of the 2020 Census could reduce Alabama to a state that has fewer voices in Congress, a lower rate of federal funding, and less power to choose the President. This version of Alabama is not good for the conservative cause.
As one of the most conservative states in the nation, the conservative movement needs a healthy Alabama that has strong, multilayered representation and power in the Electoral College to push a conservative candidate to 270.
The truth is that Alabama just might keep all seven of our congressional districts and all nine electoral college votes. To do so, however, we need a full count of everyone living in the state.
Conservatives (really everyone for that matter), therefore, should make sure they and every person they know are counted in the 2020 Census. Complete it online, mail it in, or risk a Census worker interrupting your football Saturday. If that happens, you’d best respond. You (probably) won’t miss another Kick Six.
Parker Snider is the Director of Policy Analysis at the Alabama Policy Institute.