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Republicans Shouldn't Fear An
Accurate Census

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Ph.D

It was probably inevitable that the Supreme Court would be asked to settle the squabble over how Americans should be counted. For more the last two years Clinton and the Republicans have battled over the census ever since it was revealed that at least 4 million persons were not counted in 1990. The Clinton administration wants to use a sampling method to ensure a fair and accurate count. House Republicans say there's nothing wrong with the way the census presently conducts its count.

This is not an arcane battle over how numbers are crunched in the census, but who's not among the numbers and how they will be used by politicians. The missing persons are mostly Latinos, African-Americans, and Native-Americans. The Republicans charge that sampling is a scheme by the Democrats to cook the number of minorities on the books in order to squeeze more funds for social programs, and whittle down the number of Republican seats in Congress and state legislatures.

They don't have much of a case. Most statisticians and social scientists agree that the current method of trying to count Americans one by one is costly, time-consuming, and wasteful. And that it virtually insures that millions of Americans, mostly the poor, blacks, Latinos, Native-Americans and children will be missed again in the 2000 census. The National Research Council, the American Statistical Association, and the Government Accounting Office favor sampling.

Despite what Republicans fear, and some black and Latino leaders gleefully expect, there is no guarantee that if every one of the voting age adults among the missing 4 million were counted they would all make a mad dash to the polls and vote for Democrats. In fact, given the lower vote turnout among minorities there's no guarantee that many would even bother to vote at all.

The Republicans also hurt their case with their short memory. Clinton and the Democrats didn't make an issue of the flawed census count, Republicans did. When black and Latino organizations protested the undercount after the 1990 census, the Bush administration with near unanimous support from Congress asked the National Academy of Sciences to recommend steps to correct the problem. The scientists all agreed that the current census methods were badly outdated, and that sampling was the best way to solve the problem. Newt Gingrich who as House Speaker railed that Clinton's sampling plan was a political power grab added hypocrisy to Republican collective amnesia. Immediately after the 1990 Census results were made known, then Congressman Gingrich claimed that the census missed 200,000 persons in his home state of Georgia and demanded that the number be adjusted. He based his claim on, what else, a sample survey. But the Democrats hands aren't completely clean in all this either.

Republicans probably would not have played the race card with such frenzy if Vice-President Al Gore hadn't told the NAACP's annual conference last July that "they don't even want to count you in the census." Republicans screamed that this was smoking gun evidence of a plot by the Democrats to manipulate the census to nail them.

Both Republicans and Democrats want the Supreme Court to decide who's right by March lst so that the Census Bureau can produce a fair and accurate count for the year 2,000. But no matter what the court decides, the census count will have less to do with who's counting the numbers than who's interpreting them.

Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of "
The Crisis in Black and Black"
email: Middle Passage Press
available at all bookstores!
Copyright 1998 by Afrocentric News.
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