Jessica Jones Capparell, LWVUS
Will the 2020 Census include a question on citizenship? We sure hope not.
The Census has not included a question about citizenship in nearly 70 years. It is the responsibility of the Census
to count all the people living in the United States – not just the citizens. The League believes including such a
question is unnecessary but beyond that, this question would frighten non-citizens from participating in the
So why does the Justice Department want that question back in the questionnaire? At a House Oversight and
Government Reform Committee hearing in May, acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s
Civil Rights Division, John Gore, said the request to include the citizenship question was driven by enforcement
of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA).
The question over citizenship has not been asked on the Census since before the passage of the VRA, but it
has been included on the American Community Survey (ACS). When pressed by multiple members of the
Committee, Gore could provide no evidence of a VRA case brought by the Justice Department being thrown
out due to a lack of data on citizenship.
Gore continued to dodge questions regarding the motivation and evidence behind the inclusion of the question.
He refused to answer questions about who was involved in the decision-making process. And he refused to share
the rationale for why this question is needed for VRA enforcement.
We only get one chance every ten years to get this right. An accurate count in the 2020 Census is critical, as the
data is used by local governments to plan for public safety and make economic investments in American
The actions of the Trump Administration with regard to voting rights are worrisome. Time and time again this
administration has made moves to suppress the rights of voters rather than protect them. The appointment of the
Pence-Kobach Election ‘Integrity’ Commission and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) flip on key voting rights
cases in the courts are just two examples of this behavior.
If the DOJ wants to include this question on the Census, they should provide the necessary information about the
impact that the information collected would have on the work that they are doing to enforce the VRA and protect
voters across the country.
The inclusion of this question will have too big an impact on the accuracy of the Census. We only get one chance
every ten years to get this right. An accurate count in the 2020 Census is critical, as the data is used by local
governments to plan for public safety and make economic investments in American communities. An undercount
of persons in a given area could result in inadequate disaster responders, insufficient resources for transportation
and education, and impacts to the overall health and safety of communities. The Census must be done fairly and
count all persons living in our country.
Gore referred many questions back to the Commerce Department which oversees the Census Bureau. The League
called on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to call Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to
testify about the proposed inclusion of the citizenship question in the 2020 Census. The American people have a
right to know by whom and why the decision was made to include this question.