The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday on a citizenship question proposed for the 2020 census.
The court's ruling could affect Ohio in several ways.
The state is expected to lose a congressional seat and an electoral vote after the 2020 Census, due to population declines. Those seats are apportioned on the basis of all residents in a state, not just citizens.
Some of the states expected to gain: Florida, Texas, California, and Arizona, which have millions of immigrant residents. In Florida, an estimated 3.5 million Canadian “snowbirds” spend winters there, and own some 500,000 properties in the state.
Although the census is meant to count people at their “usual residence,” many of these part-timers may get counted. The same goes for undocumented immigrants.
According to U.S. Census rules, if seasonal travelers such as snowbirds “cannot determine a place where they live most of the time, they are counted where they are staying on Census Day.” That day is April 1, 2020.
If census figures break out numbers of citizens, could it open the door for apportioning congressional districts based on the count of actual citizens? If so, Ohio could benefit.
But Dr. Stephen Brooks of the University of Akron's Bliss Institute of Applied Politics said that change would not be certain.
“Then you would need a constitutional amendment to do the fix which I think would be highly unlikely because, in essence we are split 50-50,” Brooks explained. “And you have to get all those states to ratify, it would have to pass the senate, and all of that. And that would not happen.”
Kate Warren of the Center for Community Solutions in Cleveland said more than $33 billion in federal funds to Ohio can be affected by the state’s census count.
“We’re talking about a lot of funding that flows through the state as a result of the census, and also our representation in the federal government is at stake,” said Warren. “So apportionment or the number of congressional representatives that we’ll get in Ohio depends on these census counts.”
Warren worried that a question on citizenship status may scare off immigrants, even if they have become citizens.
“It’s really our one shot every ten years to make sure that every person is counted. And so the importance there is to make sure the data that’s collected is as accurate as possible, and if there is anything that calls into question that accuracy we don’t want that included,” she said.
Warren said counties like Cuyahoga already are subject to an undercount due to the high number of what the Census Bureau calls “hard to count neighborhoods.” Those are areas with high poverty rates or large number of single parent households.