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Jan. 15, 2022, 7:10 p.m. EST

Census challenges emerge, alongside new insight into Trump administration efforts to impact the 2020 population count

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Associated Press

Detroit’s mayor believes tens of thousands of residents in the majority-Black city were missed in the 2020 census. Somerton, Ariz., leaders are incredulous the Census Bureau says they lost residents during a decade when the overwhelmingly Hispanic community grew enough to warrant a new high school.

And college towns across the U.S. believe they were undercounted as students fled campuses shuttered by the coronavirus.

The time for communities with a beef about how they were counted in the 2020 census has arrived.

Meanwhile, National Public Radio reported Saturday on new evidence of efforts by the administration of the former Republican president Donald Trump to shape the results of the decennial population count . Career civil servants were reportedly alarmed by an “unusually” high level of “engagement” by Trump political appointees in technical aspects of U.S. Census Bureau operations, even amid public scrutiny of the administration’s apparent efforts to impact to GOP advantage the future redistribution of political representation.

From the archives (January 2021): Final Trump administration attempt to address citizenship in census data shelved

Also (December 2020): Census to miss year-end deadline, throwing Trump’s apportionment plans awry

Plus (August 2020): Census Bureau set to close 2020 data-collection window a month early

At the start of the new year, the Census Bureau began accepting challenges from states, counties, cities and tribal nations about one of the most difficult counts in recent memory, due to the pandemic, political interference from the Trump administration, hurricanes and wildfires.

The scope for making challenges through the Count Question Resolution program is narrow, and few local governments got their numbers changed after the 2010 census. But the bureau has made adjustments when past errors were revealed.

Unprecedented hurdles in 2020 may heighten the need for tweaks this time around.

Many leaders worry that inaccurate figures could cost their jurisdictions their share of the $1.5 trillion the federal government distributes annually based on census numbers.

Along with concerns about undercounted racial and ethnic groups and college students, some small towns believe a new privacy method the Census Bureau used for the first time skewed their numbers. And officials in areas with large institutions like prisons or military barracks worry that pandemic lockdowns left out many inmates or service members.

The census challenges won’t change the number of congressional seats each state gets, or the numbers used for redrawing political districts. Those were released in August so the redrawing of district lines could be completed in time for upcoming elections.

At this point, it’s hard to say how many governments will appeal through the program, which has been around since 1990. As of this week, the Census Bureau hadn’t made public any applications. But states, cities, counties and tribal nations have through June 2023 to submit them.

State College, Pa., home to tens of thousands of students at Penn State University, plans to file a challenge this winter because officials believe 4,000 to 5,800 people were missed in the community of more than 40,500 residents, said Douglas Shontz, a borough spokesman.

“I’m not very optimistic but we’re going to explore every route we can to ensure everyone in State College was properly counted,” Shontz said in an email.

The lack of optimism may be because the scope of challenges is narrow — for mistakes made in recording boundaries or housing that was skipped over during data processing. In years past, only a few were successful. Revisions to population and housing totals were made to about 1% of the nation’s 39,000 governments after the 2010 census.

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