The year 2020 — surely one of the most challenging in recent memory — has one last gift left for us. The political year will not be complete until the results of the 2020 census are reported, digested, and acted upon. Like everything else about 2020, the census and the collecting of the data has been the subject of some partisan controversy. But to a conservative the rules are quite clear: if you are in the State on the targeted day, you are counted (the Census is conducted relative to one day, this year it was April 1, 2020). There are no exceptions, excluding migrant workers, temporary workers bearing visas, transients (tourists?) or others. However, how you feel about this is very much a matter of the political goggles you are wearing.
If you wear populist goggles — as many do — then you may view counting “non-citizens” as an unfair count. Surely, you might argue, it makes no sense to count, for the purpose of allocating representation, people who cannot vote for those representatives. Especially egregious would be that this also impacts the Electoral College allocations. As a result, consider a State like California. With a population of 37 million (2010 census) of whom perhaps 5.3 million are non-citizens (and ineligible to vote), this disparity gives California an outsized representation in Congress, with perhaps as many as 6 or 7 extra Representatives (and a similar advantage in the Electoral College votes). Of course, a full accounting would note that Wyoming and Vermont also have outsized representation, but that is only because their populations are not quite large enough to earn a full representative (at 575,000 and 626,000 they are below the average population per Representative, which is nearer 750,000 citizens). So we over empower a highly Blue State (California) and get disproportionate representation for one Red and one Blueish State. And, of course, Vermont splits their electoral votes to become even less significant. Meanwhile, by these criteria, New York has perhaps 3 extra votes, Florida perhaps a similar 3. A handful of other states seem to have enough non-voting people counted in their Representation allocations to get a one Representative bump, but my point is not to refight the 2020 election through this populist lens.
My point is just to note that the view is different through a conservative lens. The conservative lens I prefer is the “follow the rules and if I don’t like the outcome, change the rules for next time” lens (no ex post facto for a true conservatives — nope).
So, what gifts will the 2020 Census give us?
There are two Census reports of interest. The first is a report to the President due as close to Dec. 31, 2020 as possible. Thanks to the machinations of the outgoing administration, this report has been delayed (who knew that dragging the process through the courts could slow it down). This report delivers the population counts used to apportion representatives to the States. It’s use is governed by the Constitution and a Federal law, the Reapportionment Act of 1929, so it is pretty routine (in policy) though it will no doubt be the genitor of many pundits’ musings (including your correspondent). The good news, then, about this first report is that the process of allocating is a self-executing process, which means that unless Congress takes heroic steps (like replacing the 1929 bill), the process is automatic and not subject to fiddling by politicians. However, as we’ve seen, this does not mean the politicians won’t try.
The second census report, which will also be subject to much hand-wringing and arm-chair revisions, concerns the distributions of the populations within the States and it is used by each State’s powers that be to gerrymander their way to the next ten years of State-level power balance and for design of the Congressional Districts. And in spite of the fact that any mediocre mathematician can prove there is no such thing as a universally “fair” redistricting, and any good teacher can show you why, it is a sure bet that the media will eventually find their way to “experts” who will argue that their particular method is more fair (primarily because they will define fairness by the standards that their dark money supporters require). And so we move from one partisan crisis to the next, with brief excursions into partisanship in the side channels and backwaters of our political swamps. 2021 — already off with an armed insurrection being quelled, has other surprises for us to watch for.