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NPR News

COMIC: How The Census Turns Into Political Power (And What Trump Wants To Change)

Hi! I'm NPR correspondent Hansi Lo Wang. Did you know the census helps determine how much power your state will have in Congress and the Electoral College for the next 10 years? [Image description- Hansi, depicted as a cat with glasses, waves hello.]
That's because the Constitution requires a count of every person living in the U.S. once a decade. And state population totals from the census are used to reassign House seats and Electoral College votes – a process called congressional apportionment!
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Think of the process as a relay race. The runners are the commerce secretary (who oversees the Census Bureau), the president and Congress. The batons are state population counts and House reapportionment numbers. [Image description- Hansi puts on an exercise outfit as he talks.]
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The Census Bureau usually prepares the two batons. One contains the latest state population counts. The other contains each state's House reapportionment numbers and Electoral College votes that are calculated from the state counts.
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The batons go from the commerce secretary to the president and then to Congress, which finishes by passing only the second baton to the governor in each state. State redistricting officials then wait for more census data to redraw voting districts.
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President Trump is trying to change what goes into the second baton. For the first time in U.S. history, Trump wants to calculate those numbers without unauthorized immigrants.
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This plan would make some residents invisible in a key census count. And it could shift power away from states with higher numbers of unauthorized immigrants. The Supreme Court says federal courts should wait to see what Trump does before weighing in.
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It's not clear if Trump is able to alter the numbers. The Census Bureau would need to come up with a state-by-state count of unauthorized immigrants, which is hard to do accurately. [Image description- a 2020 census form, with no question about immigration status]
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But the handoff of the batons might not happen while Trump is in office because of the pandemic and the Trump administration's schedule changes. It depends on how fast the bureau can get the batons ready. [Image description- Hansi sweating while holding batons]
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However this relay ends, it will set up how much representation your state gets for the coming decade. Then, after the next census, another relay begins. [Image description- Hansi looks at a "2030" finish line in the distance]
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Edited byAcacia SquiresandNicole Werbeck, with copy-editing by Preeti Aroon

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