Giles joins mayors questioning reliability of shortened census count

Mesa Mayor John Giles joined other mayors from around the country on a call expressing concerns about the accuracy of the 2020 census, which ended last week, and calling for a delay so that Census Bureau analysts can completely analyze the data for accuracy. (Photo courtesy U.S. Conference of Mayors)

WASHINGTON – Mesa Mayor John Giles joined mayors from around the country Monday questioning the reliability of the just-ended census and demanding that the Census Bureau be given more time to verify its count of the U.S. population.

Giles and others on the U.S. Conference of Mayors call said recent court fights over the census, and shifting Trump administration messages on it, have eroded public trust in the count that is used to determine everything from congressional representation to allocation of federal funds.

“We now have a perception that the Census, as an American institution, has been manipulated for political gain,” Giles said.

But the Census Bureau has said that 99.9% of all households in the U.S. – and in Arizona – were counted in the census that ended on Thursday.

“Hundreds of millions of people were counted in the 2020 Census, and statisticians and data quality experts are now busy making sure everyone was counted once, only once, and in the right place,” bureau Director Steven Dillingham said in a statement released Monday.

The comments come less than a week after the Supreme Court blocked two lower courts that had ordered the bureau to keep counting until Oct. 31 in order to allow for the fullest count. The bureau in August said it would cut off enumeration on Sept. 30, a move critics said would hit minority communities hardest.

With the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Census was able to stop the count on Thursday. Mayors on Monday criticized the rush to stop counting.

“Clearly an administration that cared about an accurate count would have pushed to extend the process, not cut it short,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “This rushed process is likely to lead to an undercount.”

One reason the bureau gave for ending sooner is the current Dec. 31 deadline for it to report its findings to the president. The mayors urged Congress to extend that deadline so that if the bureau is no longer counting, it at least has time to properly analyze the data it does have. Giles called an extension a “physical necessity.”

“Experts in this field will tell you that the data, it’s impossible for them to accurately process the data before the end of the year,” Giles said.

He said that while Mesa had a higher participation rate in this census than it did in 2010, other parts of Arizona did not perform as well, particularly rural areas.

“The Navajo Nation really was decimated by this Census,” Giles said.

Door-to-door enumeration, where Census Bureau workers try to find and record people who did not respond to the census on their own, was planned to go until Oct. 31. But the bureau instead ended the count on Oct. 15, to allow time to deliver its report to the president by Dec. 31. (Photo courtesy U.S. Census Bureau)

And one expert said that the 99.9% household response rate cited by the Census does not mean the 2020 Census will be complete and accurate.

“The percent of housing units counted by itself tells us nothing about the quality and accuracy of the data collected, or the overall accuracy of the Census,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a census consultant on the mayors’ call.

She said that data collected by enumerators from homes that did not respond on their own, is generally less reliable than self-response data. And this year’s in-person data was harder than in previous years because of the challenges of COVID-19, she said.

But Dillingham said that while the bureau expected the self-response rate to drop this year, requiring more followup by Census enumerators, it actually increased slightly over the 2010 self-response rate. Particularly considering the challenges of COVID-19, Dillingham said, “we had not expected to exceed the 2010 self-response rate.”

“America stepped up and answered the call: shape your future by responding to the 2020 Census,” Dillingham’s statement said.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, questioned the enumeration process, raising doubts about the usefulness of the door-knock operation used during the non-response follow ups.

“It is more clear now than ever that there is still an attempt to interfere with an accurate count,” Bottoms said.

“I am irritated. I am frustrated with this administration, I am disappointed in this administration that something this important, something that is guaranteed and called upon by our Constitution is now being cut short in the midst of a pandemic,” Bottoms said.

An accurate count is just one concern of the mayors: Giles pointed to President Donald Trump’s push to exclude undocumented citizens from the Census, a question the Supreme Court is scheduled to consider on Nov. 30.

“My city is a third Hispanic and we have a large immigrant population, a lot of DACA in our city as well,” he said, referring to undocumented immigrants who have won a deferral of deportation. “We minister to a lot of people in our community, not just those who have the correct immigration status.”

Giles joined other mayors who called on Congress to pass an extension of the Dec. 31 reporting deadline. He urged his fellow mayors to reach out to their congressional representatives to encourage them to “better insulate” the bureau from political influence.

“It’s time for us, Republican or Democrat alike, to realize that that’s the reality that needs to be addressed,” said Giles, a Republican, emphasizing that the need for an accurate Census count is not a partisan issue.

Rochester Hills, Michigan, Mayor Bryan Barnett, echoed that, saying that calling for an accurate census “is not a political edgy statement.”

“It should be the desire of every mayor in every community to do everything we possibly can to see that end results are true,” Barnett said.

Olivia Munson(she/her)
News Reporter, Phoenix

Olivia Munson expects to graduate in spring 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in women and gender studies. Munson, who has reported for the D.C. Bureau, Times Media Group, The State Press and The Arizona Republic, is working in the Phoenix News Bureau.