WASHINGTON — The Census Bureau will cease door-knocking and other field activities for the 2020 Census a month earlier than planned, raising concerns among civil rights organizations that the constitutionally required population count will be inaccurate, particularly in its count of minorities and immigrants.
The move represents an about-face by the Trump administration, which had originally supported extending the data collection and processing until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Critics said the decision, announced late Monday as field activities are underway, was in keeping with broader attempts by the administration to alter the census for partisan gain.
"The administration has now done a complete 180 without any warning," Sarah Brannon, managing attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project, said Tuesday. "I think this decision is consistent with the behavior all along in politicizing the census and marginalizing the importance of the census."
Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., who introduced legislation earlier this year with the Trump administration's backing to push back the deadline, said the administration's efforts to manipulate the results were unprecedented. He also said the maneuver could backfire.
Gomez said that if the counting were to be stopped now, for example, it probably would result in his state picking up additional congressional seats. Gomez, who studied census history in graduate school, said it's also possible that by rushing the data collection, the census could also undercount rural areas where the president has a steadfast base of support.
"People think that they can manipulate the census, but you never truly know how it's going to turn out if you try to do it," Gomez said.
As of Monday, about 93 million households, or nearly 63 percent of the country, have responded to the census.