If there's one thing Barack Obama learned back in his community organizing days, it was that numbers count. The more people you can claim to represent, the bigger your political base. So it should come as no surprise that the Obama administration sees the business of counting people as crucial to its political power. And that's why next year's decennial census is rife with opportunities for a major power grab by the president's party.
Every 10 years, the Census Bureau counts the number of people living in the United States; the Constitution mandates. Those figures are used for all sorts of things, from determining the amount of federal aid states and localities receive for certain programs to drawing legislative districts. The Census Bureau estimates that about $400 billion in federal money is distributed through census-count formulas. And of course, congressional seats depend on it. One geographic area's gain in population comes at another area's loss of political power since the number of seats in the House of Representatives is fixed at 435.
After the last Census, several states, including California and Texas, gained seats, but others, like Pennsylvania, lost them. There's nothing particularly nefarious about this -- that is unless the numbers can be manipulated. And there's the rub. It's logical to assume that when it comes to counting people for the purpose of reapportioning congressional seats, the Census Bureau would be interested in making sure that the number of citizens living in congressional districts was roughly the same. After all, the whole idea of reapportionment is to assure that we don't end up with "rotten boroughs": districts that have lost voters but are still entitled to the same representation in our legislatures as districts that have more voters.
And that's where the Obama administration's plans for the Census become truly worrisome. The White House has made very clear that their intention is to put extra effort in counting illegal immigrants in the next Census. They want to make sure that all 12 million illegal immigrants are counted, a task that's not easy given the desire of most people illegal in the United States to avoid detection.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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