Low Census Response Could Cost States Seats

Census2010LogoSome states with large Hispanic populations may be getting undercounted by the Census because of unexpectedly poor returns.

New York, California, Texas, Arizona and Florida — are perilously close to losing out on congressional seats because of lackluster participation in the U.S. census.

The five were average or below average in mailing back 10-question census forms when compared to other states, trailing by as many as 5 percentage points, according to the final census mail-in tally released Wednesday.

Based on recent population trends, New York, California and Texas had been estimated to fall just above the cutoff for the last House seats when they are redistributed next year. Waiting behind them in hopes of picking up additional seats are Arizona and Florida, which are already expected to gain one seat apiece.

Responses from these states also raise a red flag because of their higher shares of residents who are Latinos. The Census Bureau has said one of its main concerns is whether tensions over immigration will discourage Latinos, and particularly illegal immigrants, from participating in the government count. That issue returned to the forefront after Arizona passed a tough immigration enforcement bill.

It’s possible, I suppose, that there has been genuine migration out of those states that the Census people haven’t accounted for. Indeed, one of the oddities of the process is that they have to know where you live to mail you a Census form.

The “Latino fear” thesis would seem to be undermined by the fact that Florida and Arizona — two states with large Hispanic populations — seem to be the likely beneficiaries of an undercount in those other states.  Especially in light of the recent brouhaha over Arizona’s new crackdown on illegal aliens.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dan Andrews says:
  2. Dave Schuler says:

    The obvious answer to your question, Dan, is that the Constitution says nothing about the citizenship of residents only residency for the purpose of allocating seats in Congress.

    However, the actual wording in the Constitution brings up an interesting point. Has anyone ever sought to ignore some illegal immigrants for the purposes of the census on the grounds that they are “Indians not taxed”? I’m not advocating this, merely asking the question.

  3. Dan Andrews says:

    Dave, I believe you have neglected a fact. A person or persons who enter a land or cross a border illegally, are not residents on, or of, that land or country. The act of attaining residency is a lawfully prescribed process. That process does not include usurping the laws of these United States.

  4. Wayne says:

    I don’t think illegal resident should be counted for the purpose of allocating seats. However this is the first time that I have heard of the 10 question Census. IMO if they had sent these out in the first place or at least have it as the needed first page with all other pages as optional, there would have been a much greater turn out.

  5. floyd says:

    DANG! I live in Illinois and I sent mine in… kinda makes me feel guilty to be a part of sending more corruption than necessary to Washington D.C.

  6. tom p says:

    Indeed, one of the oddities of the process is that they have to know where you live to mail you a Census form.

    James, if that was how it worked, they wouldn’t have to do a census. First off they send it to all available addresses.

    The five were average or below average in mailing back 10-question census forms when compared to other states, trailing by as many as 5 percentage points,

    They estimate this based upon other #’s they have (such as the total # of housing units receiving utilities on any given day within a community)

    In other words, they know somebody is living in 82% of the available housing in a city (or county), what they don’t know is which ones, how many are living at any one address, their income, their ethnicity, etc, etc.

    You can assume that if these states were 5% below in returns, it was with the above info in mind as well as the average rate of non-return.

    As an aside, I received 2 census forms. The wife and I just bought(closed on) a place 2 days before the 4/1 date. Technically…. we still resided in Crawford Co., but seeing as I expect to die in the place located in Washington Co… I broke the law and filled it out for the address I will be in for the next 20 years.

    Will I go to Hell for all of eternity or prison for 6 years? Or will they ignore my little transgression?

    My money is on the last.

  7. Maggie Mama says:

    tom p, the census information is still being gathered after the “due date” by census workers who are making “house calls”.

    So, if you had not filled out the form in Crawford Co, then moved, and then waited for census workers to visit your new home in Washington Co, the results would have been the same.

    As far as I know, they do not impose a penalty for not complying so you would have been safe.

    HOWEVER, you saved the American taxpayers the cost of a “home visit” so I thank you for using your darn brain and will gladly testify on your behalf if the STORM TROOPERS come for you!