Biden administration inherits census data

President Joe Biden signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Battered by criticism from the left that the 2020 census was politicized by the Trump administration, the U.S. Census Bureau under a new Biden administration has the final say in the numbers that will be used to determine funding and political power.

The long, fractious process that spooled out during a global pandemic starts with transparency about irregularities in the data, former Census Bureau directors, lawmakers and advocates said.

They advised the new administration to take more time to review and process population figures. The high-stakes undertaking will determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets as well as the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year.

“We are optimistic that things at the Census Bureau will be better. The question is whether the damage caused by the Trump administration can be rectified,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. Morial’s organization, along with other advocacy groups and municipalities, sued former President Donald Trump’s administration last year over a decision to end the once-a-decade head count early.

According to critics, that damage includes a failed effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire and a Trump order to figure out who is a citizen and who is in the U.S. illegally. They say another Trump directive to exclude people in the country illegally from the apportionment of congressional seats, shortened schedules to collect and process data, and four political appointments to top positions inside the bureau also threatened the count’s integrity.

Some census workers told The Associated Press and other media outlets that they were encouraged to falsify responses in the rush to finish the count so the numbers used for determining how many congressional seats each state gets could be produced under the Trump administration. Census Bureau officials said such problems were isolated.

Illegal immigration advocates were heartened Wednesday by President Joe Biden’s quick revocations of Trump’s order to produce citizenship data and the former president’s memo attempting to exclude people in the U.S. illegally from the apportionment count. The Biden administration also has pledged to give the Census Bureau the time it needs to process the data.

The Census Bureau also said Thursday that redistricting data it’s releasing later this year for states and municipalities to use in creating legislative districts won’t include information on citizenship or immigration status. It also said the agency is suspending all work on trying to produce the immigration status of U.S. residents for the census.

“President Biden’s swift action today finally closes the book on the Trump administration’s attempts to manipulate the census for political gain,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, who argued against the legality of the apportionment memo before the Supreme Court last year. The high court ruled that any challenge was premature.

After the bureau missed a year-end deadline for turning in the apportionment numbers, it said the figures would be completed as close to the previous deadline as possible. Trump administration attorneys recently said they won’t be ready until early March because the bureau needs time to fix irregularities in the data.