New census proposal violates Constitution
The capital is hot with accusations these days. Many lawmakers insist Republican attempts at impeachment will cause a constitutional crisis. Removing a president from office, they point out, overturns the will of the American people.
At least the Constitution allows for impeachment.
Democratic members of Congress have proposed a new method for the national census. A method the courts have already labeled unconstitutional.
The proposal suggests counting some of the American population and using statistical theories to estimate the remainder.
The proposed changes in census taking do violate the Constitution. Even if it did not, it will create too many problems to make it beneficial.
There are several reasons for suggesting the new plan. A census does not come cheap. It takes a significant amount of manpower, postage and tabulation to count the American people. The process is long and expensive.
The census numbers are always subject to intense controversy. Some segments of the population are difficult to tally. The homeless, for example, provide a unique challenge to census takers. Under the proposed system, the homeless population could be estimated.
But this opens a whole new can of worms.
New controversies will arise. Who figures the estimates? How? Which areas will be counted and which estimated? These are important decisions when funding and political representation hang in the balance.
Statistical estimates are widely accepted in many fields. Political polls usually interview about 1,000 people and extrapolate the views of the general population. The polls are generally accurate, usually plus or minus 3 percent.
Of course, the problem is 3 percent could radically affect congressional district boundaries.
Population estimates use models to project what the actual population most likely is. Unfortunately, there are no existing accurate models to use as a basis to estimate census data. The proponents of the new method point out the inaccuracies of recent census numbers -- inaccuracies that would work to hinder estimation.
Census estimators must either replicate these inaccuracies or take an educated guess at how to correct the miscounts.
This educated guess is the unconstitutional part.
This guess would doubtlessly become a partisan tool. The party in control of the census bureau will estimate in their favor.
If any office in Washington needs objectivity, it is the census bureau.
By the same token, the office needs to take every measure to guarantee accuracy in their final report. Plus or minus 3 percent does not qualify as accuracy.
The solution is a meticulous, accurate survey of the population.
Since members of congress on both sides of the aisle agree on which segments of the population are miscounted, the census bureau should devote more care and even greater resources to those areas.
The Constitution calls for an enumeration of the population every ten years. Instead of using estimates to get around the constitutional imperative, census takers should follow the requirements more closely -- counting everyone.
Dave Johnston is a senior mathematics major.