The Reapportionment Battle

April 20, 2009

The decision by Senator Gregg to decline the position as Commerce Secretary was directly tied to the decision by the White House to take political control over the census process. Recently, President Obama announced that he had chosen Robert Groves to be the next census director. Professor Groves rejects the constitutional mandate that the census count people and instead embraces statistical sampling to "guess" how many people live in different states and in different communities. It should surprise no one that this sampling methodology assumes that large numbers of traditional Democrat Party voters are missed in the standard census process.

What this will mean, if Obama and Groves are successful, is that a formula rather than a count will determine how many congressional seats and electoral votes the states are apportioned after the 2010 census. An academic will make assumptions about America and then force his assumptions to be accepted as fact in American government. This is typical of how the Left approaches America. Rather than let individual transactions - registered voters, consumer sales, gold prices - determine results, these specific events are simply evidence of nuance in the broad plan.

Minorities are presumed undercounted and so a formula will correct that, just as women and minorities are presumed underrepresented in college admissions and corporate boardrooms, so broad Leftist plans "assume" what should be the socially correct result. What if states that are presumed to be undercounted end up with an unacceptably small number of people after a "planned" count? Why cannot the formula be modified again? If a formula, rather than an actual count, is used, then there is no way to ever know when the formulaic "count" is correct. (There is also nothing to prevent the political party in power from tweaking the formula each time there is a census to get the result desired.)

There was, at the time of the Constitution, an inherent balance in the census process which has been lost - and we have been paying for it ever since. Not only did the census determine the congressional representation of a state in Congress, as well as its electoral votes, but the census also determined the tax liability of the state to the federal government. Taxation was directly tied to electoral representation in the federal government. As long as the federal government did not impose direct taxes on individuals, states had no overwhelming interest in fudging the figures to make the state's population bigger or smaller. All that has changed now.

Individuals pay taxes directly to the federal government and the tax burden of a state has no connection to its population. Political power is only increased when a state has a larger counted population at the census. State governments have a strong interest in making sure that everyone is counted and no one is missed: congressional seats and electoral votes ride on a good census count. If anything, there is a built in political factor which encourages over-counting rather than undercounting of a state population. The Census Bureau ought to be a protector against fraudulent over-counting, not possible undercounting. But exactly the opposite direction has been taken: the Census Bureau goes to great lengths to insure that people report to census takers without any fear of law enforcement, tax collectors, creditors, or anyone else finding out about the individual results of a census count.

It is not just political power that is at stake, though. States receive money from federal programs based upon the number of people in each state and, especially, upon the number of poor people in a state. That means that there is no check on over-counting people in the census process at all. New York has a political and a financial interest in as many people, especially as many poor people, counted as living in New York. The only integrity in the system was the iron law of each census: count, do not guess.

Republicans must resist attempts to make the census count a census guess, and there is one good way to fight this fraud. The only "check" on the census process is this: it is a zero sum game. Guess in big urban areas and coming up with more people than a count would have produced can only come at the expense of smaller, rural states. Republicans need to put the heat on Democrat senators from these states: Arkansas, Minnesota, Oregon, West Virginia and other states with good, solid counts of population which have been historically Democrat. These states will lose congressional seats and lose federal dollars if the census process is skewed toward over-counting in big urban areas. Senators are intended to protect the citizens of their states from an overbearing federal government. If only a few states which would lose under the planned formula census and which had Democrat senators raised their voices, the nomination of Groves would die. This is a battle which must be won, and it is a battle which can be won.

Copyright ©2009 Bruce Walker

Bruce Walker is a long-time conservative writer whose work is published regularly at popular conservative sites such as American Thinker.