After a protracted court fight over how long American residents should be counted for the 2020 Census, a Tuesday order from the U.S. Supreme Court means all counting will end Thursday. Of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, Louisiana ranks dead last in the percentage of households counted, the only one of those jurisdictions Tuesday with fewer than 99.5 percent of its households counted and one of only two with fewer than 99.9 percent of households counted.
According to a census bureau website, 98.4 percent of households in Louisiana have been counted and 99.5 percent of households in Mississippi. It’s 99.9 percent everywhere else in the country, including Alabama, the one state Louisiana led at the end of September.
In a statement released Wednesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards urged Louisianians who haven’t been counted to use the little time left to make sure they are. “This new date leaves little time for Louisiana to make sure we have a full count,” the governor said. “It’s critical that every household complete the census by tomorrow – in fact, please do it today. This opportunity only comes once every 10 years. Louisiana is currently lagging behind the rest of the country in our participation rate, jeopardizing millions of federal dollars to improve our communities. The census will determine how we are represented in Congress and how much in federal funding our state will receive for vital services such as health care, education and roads. Now is the time for everyone to be counted.”
The Trump administration had announced that because of COVID-19 complications, this year’s count would last until through the month of October. However, at the beginning of August, the administration announced that it would be halting the count a month earlier, on Sept. 30.
On Sept. 24, U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh, a federal judge in Northern California, responding to a lawsuit filed by the National Urban League and others called the administration’s plan to cut counting short “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — who oversees the census bureau — to stick to the administration’s previously announced Oct. 31 deadline.
But the Supreme Court Tuesday invalidated Koh’s ruling in an unsigned order. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from that order.
The battle over the deadline isn’t only about how long the vote continues. It’s also about when the official tally will be presented to the president. Even if Joe Biden wins election in November, if the commerce secretary gets the 2020 Census results to President Donald Trump while he’s still president, then he may be able to follow through on his promise to exclude non-citizens from the official count.
“Trump has been weaponizing the Census against immigrants generally and the undocumented Latino population specifically,” Salvador Longoria, who heads the nonprofit Latino advocacy group Puentes New Orleans, said in August. “This is another one of his many ploys and antics.”
However, U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, of Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District, said then, “I strongly support President Trump’s decision to exclude illegal aliens from the Executive Branch’s Census Statement. This is significant for proper congressional apportionment and the integrity of our elections. American voting rights and American congressional representation belong to American citizens.”
According to the Constitution, “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire country, but in addition to that, Louisiana has had other extenuating circumstances that has made it more difficult to obtain an accurate count. An undercount of any size would mean fewer federal dollars for Louisiana.
Hurricane Laura, which made landfall in Cameron Parish Aug. 27, originally displaced tens of thousands of people in the Southwest Louisiana area. There were still 8,600 storm evacuees living in Louisiana and Texas hotels last week when Hurricane Delta landed in the same region of the state, and that number increased to 10,000 after the second storm.
Marilyn Stephens, assistant regional census manager in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Atlanta office, said in a September interview with the Illuminator that field workers would be sent to the hotels with storm evacuees to count them there.
The 2020 Census is the first one in the nation’s history where residents have been given three ways to self respond, Stephens said. Responding to the census by mail has long been the standard, but this is the first time the census has publicized the public’s ability to respond online and the first time it has provided a way for people to respond on the phone, she said.
An online questionnaire can be found at 2020Census.gov. English speakers can dial 844-330-2020. Non-English speakers can find the number to call at this link.
After Tuesday’s court order, the census bureau announced that it would accept online questionnaires through October 15, 2020 through 11:59 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time (HST). In Louisiana, that deadline is 4:59 a.m. on Oct. 16.