- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2001

Census Bureau officials yesterday advised the secretary of commerce not to release adjusted census results for use in redrawing the nation's legislative districts.

The decision is widely seen as demolishing the Democrats' attempts to assure that census figures would be adjusted to compensate for those people who apparently were overlooked in last spring's head count.

It "pulled the rug from under the Democrats," commented Chip Walker, spokesman for the House subcommittee that oversees census operations.

The decision also led Wade Henderson, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, to declare, "The civil rights community is deeply disappointed by [the] announcement." As Mr. Henderson and others noted, the bureau has estimated the 2000 census missed some 3.4 million persons, most of them members of minority groups.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the New York Democrat who has led the fight for adjustment, said she too was "disappointed" by the announcement. She stated that the bureau had needed more time to correct the census errors. "We should give it to them," she said. Then she added, "Millions of Americans had the clock run out on them."

The adjustment question has been a hot political issue for months and a topic of relentless debate between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

That's because it's assumed that adjusting the final census tallies ultimately would favor the Democratic Party and disadvantage Republicans. It is widely believed that the adjustment would increase the count of minority group members, renters, and city dwellers who typically tend to be undercounted and who also tend to vote Democratic.

But adjusting the census relates directly to the use of statistical sampling, which Republicans vehemently oppose and went to court to prevent. Any contemplated adjustment of the census totals arrived at through mailed questionnaires and personal interviews with nonrespondents would be based on sampling techniques.

Sampling is the process of gathering data from a segment of a large group then attributing the results to all in the larger group. The Supreme Court ruled it is illegal to apply that technique when arriving at the population totals used for allocating seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans contend it is also illegal to use sampling-based population figures when remapping state and local voting districts.

The recommendation not to use adjusted census totals was agreed upon by a special, 12-member Census Bureau committee of statisticians and demographers, who generally accept sampling as a valid and valued methodology.

According to those familiar with the committee's report, the members stated, "Quality measures indicate the adjusted data are more accurate overall, but concerns were identified."

The Census Bureau committee report said results from the "Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation," a follow-up survey of 314,000 households following the census, conflicted with results from a separate demographic analysis usually performed after a census to measure its accuracy.

"After careful consideration of the data, this committee has concluded that there is considerable evidence to support the use of adjusted data, and that the Census 2000 and [Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation] operations were well-designed and conducted," the report said.

However, a comparison to demographic analysis and other possible errors "preclude a determination at this time that the adjusted data are more accurate," it said.

Moreover, a statement from the Commerce Department, the Census Bureau's parent agency, said that the bureau "professionals determined that they could not conclude that the data for legislative redistricting collected during Census 2000 would be improved by adjustment through the statistical method known as sampling."

The committee forwarded its decision to William Barron, the acting bureau director. It went from him to Commerce Secretary Don Evans.

Mr. Evans had decreed two weeks ago that he and not Mr. Barron would make the final decision regarding adjusting census numbers, and he is widely expected to agree with the bureau's recommendation.

Indeed, the secretary announced earlier yesterday that he had named five outside specialists to help him reach a decision on the matter. At least three of the advisers are on record as opposing the census adjustment.

However, Mr. Evans said in a statement, "I will weigh Director Barron's recommendation, review the [census committee's] report and talk with a diverse group of other professionals. My objective is an open and fair process that will generate a decision all Americans can respect."

• This article is based in part on wire service reports


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