Challenge #3: Justification for Including a Citizenship Question

In March 2018, Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, instructed the U.S. Census Bureau to include a question on citizenship in the 2020 census.  The justification for including a question on citizenship, as  outlined in a March 2018 memo, is based on a December 2017 request by the U.S. Justice Department. The U.S. Justice Department asserts citizenship data are essential to secure "important protections against racial discrimination in voting" and therefore "the Department needs a reliable calculation of citizen voting-age population (CVAP) in localities where voting rights violations are alleged or suspected."

 

Since 2005, the American Community Survey (ACS) has collected and tabulated CVAP data, making it the go-to dataset for voting-related research and policy.  The smallest geographic unit that ACS (including CVAP) data are available is the census block-group, which is a collection of census blocks often averaging around 1,500 people. The U.S. Justice Department argues that having CVAP data at the census block (smallest unit of census geography often containing a few hundred people) is essential for enforcing Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). 

 

As others have pointed out (e.g. Sherman, Elliot, and Rizzo), what remains unclear is how block-level data will lead to better enforcement of the VRA.  This is an important point, especially considering the potential drawbacks of including a citizenship question that has not been fully tested.  As former U.S. Justice Department official Justin Levitt points out, any improvement in citizenship data would likely be offset by the undercount of immigrant and minority groups, leading to data that is more precise but far less accurate.

 

Click on the image below for more information and resources on citizenship data from the ACS: