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Supreme Court Permits Trump Administration To End Census Counting Early


There's not even two full days left to get counted for the 2020 census. The U.S. Supreme Court said yesterday it is going to allow the Trump administration to stop counting early. The Census Bureau says October 15 is the new end date. The administration has been pushing for an early end in order to try to get a specific set of census numbers into President Trump's hands by December 31.

NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covers the census and he joins us now. Welcome, Hansi.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: So a lot to explain here. First off, what are the numbers that the Trump administration wants to see by the end of the year and why?

WANG: These are the new state population counts, according to the 2020 census. These are numbers that reset the country's political map because they determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets for the next 10 years. And these are the same population numbers that President Trump wants to make an unprecedented change. The Constitution requires the count to include the whole number of persons in each state. But President Trump wants to exclude unauthorized immigrants even though since the first U.S. census in 1790, numbers have included both citizens and noncitizens, regardless of immigration status.

MARTIN: So - but I don't get this. Will ending it early on October 15 - is that going to create the set of numbers that the Trump administration wants to see? In other words, will that set of numbers not include people who are noncitizens?

WANG: Well, the Census Bureau has said that if counting were to be ended immediately, there is this chance that it could possibly deliver the latest state population counts, as well as some count of the unauthorized immigrants living in the country by the end of this year. But the Census Bureau's top officials have also said since May that because of the pandemic, it can no longer do something like that. So we'll have to see exactly what the Census Bureau can do at this point.

But the thing to remember here is that the Trump administration is pushing because if those numbers are delivered to the president by the end of this year, there is a chance for President Trump - regardless of whether he wins reelection, there's a chance for him to try to make this change to the census numbers while he's in office.

MARTIN: So what does it mean for Americans if the census count ends early?

WANG: A lot of people of color, immigrants, renters, other historically undercounted groups may be missed or counted inaccurately in the 2020 census because counting has been cut short. And the time to do quality checks, to process these results and make sure there aren't any duplicate responses - that has been cut short. And that means a higher risk of an unfair distribution of not just congressional seats and Electoral College votes, but also long-term impacts in how voting districts are redrawn from the local and state level, as well as the distribution of an estimated $1.5 trillion in federal money for Medicare, Medicaid, schools, roads, other public services - not to mention flawed census information that businesses, policymakers and researchers rely on.

MARTIN: But, again, I mean, the census is supposed to count every living person in the U.S. That's not going to happen by tomorrow, is it?

WANG: It's not looking likely, especially on tribal lands and parts of Louisiana, where the coronavirus, hurricanes, flooding have made it hard to send out doorknockers to reach those households that have not yet responded. The thing we know right now is that if your household has not been counted yet, you can still go online at my2020census.gov until tomorrow, October 15, at 11:59 p.m. Hawaii time. October 15 is also the end date for the census call centers and the deadline for getting paper forms postmarked if you're going to send in a paper form.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covers the 2020 census. Hansi, thank you.

WANG: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.