- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2001

Feuding over the results from Census 2000 continues and could well become more bitter and widespread in the months ahead.

The most immediate census challenge comes Wednesday, when Utah goes to court for a hearing on its claim that the Census Bureau cheated it of a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Also waiting turns at the bar are the legal teams of Los Angeles, North Carolina, Oregon, two Texas counties and a clutch of U.S. representatives.

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau is preparing a new recommendation concerning the release of "adjusted" census totals. The adjusted figures are based on sampling and demographic analysis and are expected to show how many Americans were missed in Census 2000. The current estimate is that 3.4 million people went uncounted.

Among other things, the adjusted numbers will reveal whether certain states have gained or lost seats in the House as a consequence of the undercount.

"Lots of shoes have yet to drop," says historian Margo Anderson, a census specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is studying the legal challenges to the census.

"The adjusted figures are important if they show states lost representation because of an undercount," she says. "But at the same time they're not important, because the U.S. Supreme Court barred use of adjusted figures for apportionment" that is, for determining how many seats in the U.S. House of Representatives each state will be allotted.

The adjusted census numbers were to have been announced in March. However, Bureau officials recommended that Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans bar their release at that time. Statisticians had encountered oddities in the data that they could not explain. They have been reanalyzing the results ever since.

A lot rides on what the statisticians have found. The government can use the adjusted figures when calculating how to disburse some $185 billion in federal grants for the needy, for transportation and the like. So various minority groups and local officials pushing for a greater share of largess based on increased population are seriously concerned. They want the tallies in their jurisdictions to be as nearly accurate as possible and to include the immigrants, renters and ghetto dwellers who typically are hardest to locate and most often go uncounted.

"And you know that if it turns out that the adjusted numbers would have moved a seat in the House, that will raise intense interest in Congress. Matters are going to get complicated," says Miss Anderson.

It's clear the states take issues affecting House apportionment seriously.

As a result of the regular census count, Utah lost a House seat to North Carolina by just 856 persons. Utah officials quickly sued the Commerce Department, declaring that the Census Bureau its agency cheated the state because it failed to count the 14,000 Utah residents who were serving as missionaries overseas. The argument was dismissed.

Now the state is arguing that the Census Bureau failed to properly count Utah's residents because it used what the bureau calls "imputation" when taking the national head count.

"Imputation" refers to census takers' traditional practice of completing forms by using information gleaned from presumably knowledgeable neighbors. The census takers, or "enumerators," do that when it's impossible to gain a response from residents that the neighbors say they know.

Utah contends that imputation is akin to sampling, which explains why it also was banned when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled sampling could not be used for apportionment. Sampling is a statistical technique that involves gathering information from a small group that represents a larger group, then attributing to the larger group the information gained from the small one.

North Carolina, which gained and wants to keep the seat denied to Utah, has filed a motion to dismiss Utah's lawsuit.

Los Angeles is appealing the denial of its plea that the Commerce Department be forced to release the "adjusted" census figures. Similarly Oregon, two Texas counties, and 16 Democratic members of the House Government Reform committee have sued to have the adjusted figures released.

None of this is particularly surprising, said Miss Anderson. "Suits over the census have become common since the 1970s," she says. She noted that 50 cases were examined after the 1980 census, and the Census Bureau won all of them.

Fewer lawsuits followed the 1990 count, which, census consultant Terri Ann Lowenthal said, involved more major cities and received more sustained media attention than the current lawsuits.

The 1990 lawsuits dragged through the courts for most of the decade and that may well happen again.


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