The Trump administration wants the Census to include a question about citizenship, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has until April 1 to decide if it will.

It has been 68 years since the official U.S. Census inquired about citizenship. The question was dropped after 1950, but in December, the Justice Department sent a letter to the Census Bureau requesting the citizenship question in the 2020 Census.

The Justice Department said it needs the information to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The department is required to protect voting rights and prevent racial discrimination in the drawing of congressional districts.

But it may be enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act, which requires maintenance of accurate voter lists, that will be most affected by the citizenship question.

The state of California and the county of Los Angeles are currently being sued by Judicial Watch and the Election Integrity Project California over the failure to maintain accurate and up-to-date voter registration records. Judicial Watch calculated that in Los Angeles County, 144 percent of the citizen voting-age population is registered to vote.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla recently told the editorial board of this newspaper that Judicial Watch was using inaccurate population numbers to arrive at that figure. He said they were bad at math and methodology.

But if the 2020 Census asks every household about citizenship status, there will be an accurate count, or at least a count on which the government is required to rely, of the citizen voting-age population in every state, county and district. Those figures can be compared to the voter registration records.

This isn’t necessarily a story about illegal immigration. Non-citizens who are legal permanent residents could easily be registered to vote under the “motor voter” law. In California, a new law requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to automatically register every eligible person to vote when they complete any transaction at the DMV, unless they fill out a form to opt out. How many non-citizens have inadvertently become registered voters?

We may find out.

The Census, which is required by the U.S. Constitution, counts the population every 10 years, and the numbers are used to apportion congressional seats. States that have gained population can pick up an extra representative or two, while states that have seen an exodus can lose them.

So politicians are anxious to see that everyone is counted. In addition to congressional representation, hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds for various programs are divided up based on the Census tally.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti has just issued an executive directive on census preparations, establishing the “Mayor’s Office of the Census” within his budget office. “It is more important than ever to make sure that all Angelenos are counted regardless of citizenship,” he wrote. His words reflect the concern that immigrants, fearful of the federal government, may refuse to participate in the Census.

So the directive calls for each city department to designate a “census liaison” and provide its database of Los Angeles addresses to the City Engineer by March 1 “for the purpose of compiling a Master Address File for the federal Local Update of Census Addresses program.”

Some of the departments directed to turn over their address databases for the federal program are Housing and Community Investment, Police, Economic and Workforce Development, and Water and Power.

Strange. If the Census Bureau had asked for that information, California probably would have sued them.

Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group.


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