by Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of National Association, Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund
While the task of counting our nation’s residents only takes up a few words in Section 2 of Article I and the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, the Census’s impact on the day-to-day lives of Americans is fundamental. Never are the high stakes of a few words in the Constitution and a few minutes spent on a questionnaire once every ten years more apparent than when the Census nears, and debates once again arise over how to count the nation’s population. Last week, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce inserted itself in one of the fiercest such debates in decades by directing the U.S. Census Bureau to add an untested question about U.S. citizenship in the 2020 Census questionnaire.
The mandate to conduct a Census in the U.S. Constitution is found in one of the most egregious original passages in our founding document: the statement that enslaved persons were to count as 3/5 of one person for the purposes of reapportionment of Congressional seats. This misguided course was corrected with the adoption of the Reconstruction Amendments, leaving in place the requirement that the nation take an actual enumeration of every member of the population, on an equal basis, every ten years.