- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Commerce Department Secretary Donald L. Evans yesterday barred the use of "adjusted," or corrected, census totals for remapping voting districts across the land, effectively ending a fierce, three-year political war.

The battle had been waged in congressional hearings and debates, in the Supreme Court and the court of public opinion, with Republicans fighting Democrats, who favor adjustments to compensate for those missed in the regular head count.

Leaders of both parties have assumed that an adjusted number based on the statistical technique of sampling would swell the ranks of minority-group members and others who tend to vote Democratic, giving Democrats a legislative advantage.

For that reason, most expected Mr. Evans to decide against adjustment. It was widely accepted on Capitol Hill that he favored the Republican position against sampling.

His decision was preordained last week when Census Bureau officials made a surprise announcement that their long-standing plan to offer a corrected census tally had gone awry. As a consequence, they recommended that for "redistricting" Mr. Evans release to the states only population figures obtained from the mailed questionnaires and follow-up interviews conducted with nonrespondents last spring. "Redistricting" is the term used for redrawing voting district boundaries.

Asked if he thought Mr. Evans' decision would end the debate over sampling and adjustment, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said: "It should. This is an empirical question; it's not a political question. We do sampling when we cannot count. We are told that this is the most accurate count we've had in decades. The whole issue is a political issue. You know that and I know that.

"It's just pure, bald-faced, raw politics. There will be continued complaining about it. But the fact is, in terms of any official issuance of the census and any moving along with the nation's business based on that, I think it'll go forward."

In a press conference yesterday, Mr. Evans reaffirmed the government's conviction that last year's census was the most accurate and complete ever conducted. He noted that before reaching his decision he had consulted a half-dozen leading nongovernment statisticians. He said he had "followed a process that was open, reasonable and fair, and took full account of the view of experts."

The most persuasive analysts were the Census Bureau statisticians.

Bureau officials said they estimated they failed to count some 3.4 million mostly minority group-members in the census. But they said they couldn't alter the tally to compensate for that because they couldn't account for oddities in their census quality checks.

When a census is completed, bureau specialists critically examine their operations and results. Among other things, they sample a segment of the population and match the numbers achieved in this small census against the full census results.

They also compare sampled data with "demographic data," gleaned mainly from public records like welfare rolls, birth and death records obtained from the states, and estimates of illegal aliens provided by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

In past censuses, numbers quarried from demographic analysis always produced numbers that exceeded those obtained in the head count. Not this time.

The figures obtained in the 2000 census are higher, and Census officials are not sure why. They say it will take time to come up with an answer, and, until they do, they cannot assume their sampling is not flawed.

William Barron, acting Census Bureau director, said it may be that the 1990 census missed more people than originally thought, or that there was a glitch in the bureau's quality-control measures.

In any event, said Mr. Barron, "we're confident we have provided the best and most reliable numbers we can."

• David Boyer contributed to this report.

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