The US Constitution requires a census every 10 years. The census is mandatory because it affects the numbers of seats each state occupies in the U.S. House of Representatives. It also affects the distribution of electoral college votes because the number of electors each state gets equals the total number of its U.S. senators and representatives. Census data also inform all sorts of decisions related to the distribution of federal, state, and local services across communities.
Boring? Maybe not. In Nigeria, soon after independence, one of the major Eastern ethnic groups believed it had been undercounted in the 1962 census, thus depriving them of the proportional parliamentary representation they believed was their due. The government ran a recount that, to Eastern eyes, seemed even less credible than the original. This led to a lot of distrust, so much so that the 1964 elections were spoiled by a lot of violence and cheating. The outcome did not favor the Eastern region. By 1967, the country was embroiled in a deeply destructive civil war.
The stakes are getting higher in the USA. The country is undergoing three simultaneous demographic revolutions: (1) the population is aging, shifting the demand for resources towards social security and health care and away from other needs; (2) the rural population is beginning to shrink, potentially shifting the composition of house seats and electoral votes away from rural states; and (3) the white, English-speaking population will become a minority within a few decades. Right or wrong, such changes provoke a lot of anxiety in some people. If history is any guide, trying to make these problems go away by rigging the census will only make things worse. You can help: let your congressional representative and senators know that you support a fully funded 2020 census led by a respected demographer.
Photo Credit: Unknown