2010 U.S. Census: Are We the April Fools?

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Time for tomfoolery, monkeyshines, and high jinx! This is the day jokesters fill the sugar bowl with salt, super-glue coins to the sidewalk, and stretch balloons over vehicle exhaust pipes. It’s also the day the Census Bureau would like to have you return your 2010 U.S. Census form. No fooling.

The census process is not without controversy…

Brian Naylor (NPR) census update:

The Census bureau says about half of American households have already put their forms in the mail. Hoping to lead by example, the White House released a picture of the President filling out his form.

The process is likely to take less than ten minutes for most households. The Census Bureau will actually accept forms in the mail through the end of the month.

Starting in May they’ll be sending out enumerators to go door to door to fill in the count, an expensive process.

Census officials say Americans can save their government money by returning the forms by mail.

The Census Bureau has advertised heavily in Hispanic communities, hoping to raise participation rate among Latinos, and it appears the strategy is working. The Pew Hispanic Center says 9 in 10 Hispanics say they intend to take part in the count.

Hans von Spakovsky (The Heritage Foundation):

I have been deluged lately with requests asking me whether one has to answer all of the questions on the 2010 Census, particularly those about race and ethnic background. Like Mark Krikorian, I don’t like those questions and don’t think the U.S. government should be collecting that information — its only use is to continue to separate us on racial grounds, for reapportionment purposes and for certain government programs.

Mark has said that he is going to answer “American” on the race question. I have always been tempted to answer “Native American,” since I was born and raised here. However, people need to understand that they may incur a legal liability if they use such answers or don’t answer questions at all.

In Article I, Section 2, the Constitution says that an “Enumeration” must be conducted every ten years “in such Manner as [Congress] shall by Law direct.” Congress has directed through a federal law that anyone who “refuses or willfully neglects…to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions” on the Census form can be fined $100 (13 U.S.C. § 221). If you deliberately give a false answer, you can be fined up to $500.

Although there are not a lot of reported prosecutions, this statutory requirement has been upheld by the courts as constitutional. There is even a 1970 court decision from Delaware holding that there is a separate violation for each question you don’t answer. So, on this year’s ten-question Census form, you could be fined as much $1,000 — $5,000 if you refuse to answer or deliberately give false answers. If there was a mass refusal by millions of Americans to answer parts of the form — like the race question — the U.S. Justice Department would not have the resources to prosecute everyone who violated the law. But you could be prosecuted and fined, and there is a court decision from New York (which the Supreme Court refused to review) holding that a conviction for violating this law is valid even if there were other persons who also refused to fill out the form but were not prosecuted. (One curious exception to that: The liberal Ninth Circuit reversed a conviction when it was shown that the defendant might have been targeted due to his publicly held “dissident” view that the Census is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.)

Everyone should realize that if you don’t complete a Census form, you are violating federal law. The chances of actual prosecution may be remote, but it could happen. The only real answer to this problem is for Congress to prohibit the Census Bureau from collecting such information and to make all government programs (and the reapportionment process) explicitly race-neutral.

(emphasis mine)

I am an American:

Another opinion on the Census Bureau’s ethnicity question from Hans Bader (Examiner.com)

Republicans will lose many seats in Congress due to right-wing paranoia about the Census and refusal to fill out census forms, gloats the liberal web site Daily Kos.

The number of Congressional districts a state gets is based on how many of its citizens return completed census forms. Because voters in conservative states are completing and returning census forms at lower rates than voters in liberal states, conservative states will lose many seats in the House of Representatives that they would otherwise gain due to increases in their population.

Republican-leaning “Red States” will also lose out on billions of dollars in federal funds, which are apportioned based largely on population.

Unlike many things the federal government does, the Census is expressly authorized by the explicit language of the Constitution. (As a believer in free markets, limited government, and the Constitution, I have criticized some of the legislation backed by the Obama Administration as being unconstitutional and beyond Congress’s enumerated powers. But the Census and the questions it asks are perfectly constitutional, even though some of those questions may seem unnecessary).

A few white Census respondents are stupidly listing their race as “human” or “some other race” rather than white. Many commenters at the conservative website Free Republic say they will just refuse to report their race on their Census forms, viewing it as irrelevant.

This inaccurate reporting of racial information may unintentionally prolong racial set-aside programs that are obsolete and no longer necessary. By making the white percentage of the population appear smaller than it in fact is, such responses can make it easier for the federal government to get away with racial quotas, which are based on so-called disparity studies, which measure the supposed gap between racial percentages in the population and racial percentages in awards of government contracts. Under Supreme Court rulings like the 1987 Paradise decision, quotas are supposed to be used only as a “last resort” and for no longer than absolutely necessary. But faulty census data can give them a new lease on life, even when they serve no valid purpose, and enforce, rather than remedy, discrimination.

(emphasis mine)

The United States Constitution allows for the federal government  to count heads – nothing more. This information is used to assign the number of congressional representatives needed in each state. However, lower U.S. courts have ruled that asking additional questions such as race, age, phone numbers, income, marital history, etc. are allowed. Commerce Dept. claims to keep personal information confidential aren’t reassuring.

As of now, the law regarding the census is what it is… If you don’t return your census form, a Census Bureau employee will be knocking on your door to retrieve information. Remember, it costs the U.S. government 44 cents to send a questionnaire but it costs U.S. taxpayers $50 to hire and train someone to show up at your residence. You will not be arrested for non-compliance, but you will be fined $100 for every unanswered question and $500 for every wrongfully answered question with fines to cap at $5,000.

The Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of the expanded census.

Today, while we’re mixing food coloring in milk and spraying shaving cream on strawberry pie, we should ask ourselves if WE are April fools for letting lower courts, special interests, and designing politicians meddle with the census process… 

In the meantime, have a

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Related articles:
Avoid Census Scams
10 Questions on the short form
Questions on the long form – ACS (American Community Survey) One in six households has received this form.
How your community is doing

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