2020 U.S. Census (297898)
Credit: U.S. Census Bureau

New York City and New York State officials continued their Census push among a cloud of uncertainty in the courts.

Last week, the AmNews reported on NYC Census 2020’s ongoing “Count the Heroes” campaign, the city’s effort to increase response rates, especially among frontline workers who have pushed through during the COVID-19 pandemic. That campaign continued this week while a federal court was set to announce a ruling that would push the city’s efforts along or grind them to a halt. “Count the Heroes” hit Queens Hospital in Jamaica on Monday afternoon to make sure frontline workers were counted there as well.

According to New York Counts 2020, there’s been a 66.7% self-response rate in the country. New York, so far, clocked in at a 63.8% response rate when compared to the final 64.6% response rate for the 2010 Census. The state has a 99.8 enumeration rate as of Wednesday with a 36% Nonresponse Followup (NRFU) completion rate. New York State lags behind most of the country with the 31st response rate among the 50 states.

Last week, a federal judge in California ruled that the Trump administration had to keep the Oct. 31 Census deadline, pushing back on their desire to end the Census early on Oct. 5. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh’s ruling would give the Census Bureau a better shot at correctly counting people in famously undercounted areas and give them time to collect online responses.

The administration appealed to the Ninth Circuit asking that Koh’s order be suspended immediately. Trump and his people argued that the Sept. 30 deadline gave Congress a better chance of having the Census reports delivered to them by Dec. 31. Koh did deny the National Urban League’s, and other groups in the lawsuit, request to monitor Census operations closely.

“The notion that we are going to be placed in contempt for contingency planning in the event that deadline comes back into effect—which could happen any day given the appeal to the Ninth Circuit—it’s just not a contempt situation,” said Department of Justice Attorney August Flentje. “To call this a contempt situation is just not reasonable.”

Through government internal documents, presented during the trial, 10 states would be undercounted if the Ninth Circuit rules in the administration’s favor including Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. All three are battleground states in this year’s presidential election.

While the administration awaited its appeal on Wednesday, Julie Menin, director of NYC Census 2020 and executive assistant corporation counsel of the NYC Law Department, praised Koh for her initial ruling.

“The Trump administration picked a fight with democracy and democracy won,” stated Menin. “We now expect the Census Bureau to fully comply with Judge Koh’s order and not only inform every census employee that the census will continue until October 31, as it should have all along, but also ensure that this is the end to all legal shenanigans and the count actually continues until the end of the month.

“This is a victory for all of us and for the rule of law to ensure that everyone is counted. In NYC, we will continue our fight to ensure New Yorkers get every ounce of the money, power, and respect to which we are entitled.”

According to the City University of New York’s Graduate Research Center’s “Census 2020 Hard-to-Count” map, there’s a lot that would go wrong if President Donald Trump’s appeal in the Ninth Circuit goes through. While the U.S. Census said it’s on track to count 99% of homes in America, it doesn’t mean that the count is accurate.

“Not all ‘completed’ cases result from a self-response, which yields the most accurate data, or direct in-person interview with a member of the household,” read a recent report. “Nonresponse Follow-up is twice as likely to miss people in a household that otherwise is counted than is true for households that self-respond. These ‘within’ household omissions” account for a significant portion of the census undercount.

The report also noted enumerating housing units after one unsuccessful visit is a bad way to count people.

“While these cases require only one visit to confirm the status and mark the home as ‘completed,’ enumerators must verify that a housing unit was vacant on April 1, which might require more time and investigation,” the report read. “Or, a structure with a street-level business—such as a store or tax services—could include living quarters in the back, basement, or upper floor. Rushing this work could lead to an incorrect determination about occupancy—and therefore an undercount.”

A reliance on counting by proxy could result in taking someone else’s household data for its word. Groups of people could be missed with the lack of time available to fill any missing answers with administrative records, which would undercount young people (especially young men of color).

Another question regarding the Census surrounds death. What if someone dies after filling out the Census? Would they still count? The AmNews contacted the New York Regional Center for the U.S. Census for answers and they said it depended on when they died.

“The reference day is April 1st; if they were living as of April 1st at the particular address they will be counted,” said a Census spokesperson.

Earlier this year, a court rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to include a citizenship question on the Census. This month marked its latest effort to undercount areas with a significant minority and immigrant population, which happen to be in blue states: states that didn’t vote for Trump.