A Chicago-Style Census

Ken Blackwell

2/17/2009 12:00:21 AM - Ken Blackwell

The census is one of the most important functions performed by the federal government because the integrity our representative democracy depends on it. Because both parties understand its importance, the census has always been insulated from political corruption.

That is why news of the Obama Administration’s plan to take the 2010 census away from the Commerce Department and run it out of the White House is disturbing. This action will have enormous implications on the balance of political power in the country.

When I was co-chairman of the U.S. Census Monitoring Board, the left fought unsuccessfully to introduce “statistical sampling” into the census count. Had they gotten their way, it would have adjusted the numbers.

Statistical sampling is inherently unreliable and carries the potential for corruption and fraud. There are competing theories on which model or formula to use to adjust the numbers. If you pick the wrong formula, everyone would be deprived of having an equal vote and equal representation.

Some say that statistical sampling cannot be used in congressional districting. That is only half-true. First, the Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that sampling cannot be used to reapportion seats from one state to another. However, the Court did not address whether sampling could be used to redraw district lines within each state. Look at how Texas’s redistricting plan last decade flipped several Democrat seats to Republican seats, and it is clear how much of an impact redrawing lines can have.

Second, there are ways clever lawyers can figure out how to push the envelope with sampling to manipulate reapportionment without blatantly violating the Court’s order. The Obama Administration is overflowing with clever lawyers.

Beyond that, sampling can be used to “adjust” the numbers for receiving federal money. With the trillion-dollar spending monstrosity that just squeaked through Congress, allocating those funds could easily target districts to help vulnerable Democrats, and pick off vulnerable Republicans.

Finally, some say not to be overly concerned because it’s too late to impact the 2010 census. Don’t believe that for a moment. While it is true that some aspects have been in the planning for years, there are tremendous changes that could be done at the last minute. This is a partisan power grab, and Republicans need to stand up against it.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel would most likely be supervising the census. This is the man who, for the past few years, was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). As such, his mission was to elect as many Democrats as possible to Congress. No person in America is better-versed than Mr.

Emanuel on exactly what redistricting and reapportionment plan would give Democrats a super-majority in Congress for the next decade.

Further, the White House can keep its census deliberations secret. This adds a dangerous dimension to the process. The Commerce Department is subject to the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), which requires public hearings and input for making rules and regulations, and requires agencies to explain how they account for all the evidence presented. But the White House is not an agency, and is exempt for the APA. If the White House takes over the census, they could incorporate suggestions from organizations such as ACORN and MoveOn.org on how to conduct the census, and all such meetings and consultations would be secret. So much for President Obama’s promise of transparency.

It is exactly this sort of Chicago-style politics that must be kept out of the census. The administration’s power grabbing scheme will allow for the worst sort of political dealing in smoke-filled backrooms.

Republicans should immediately introduce legislation to keep the census out of the White House. Nothing should be more independent of rank partisan politics than the process that determines the integrity of our representative democracy.

President Obama got elected talking about the audacity of hope. It is truly audacious for his administration to hope that Chicago-style politics could carry the day on this important issue.