Politics shouldn’t count in 2020 census

Another controversial nominee gets ready for U.S. Senate hearings. No, not for a Supreme Court justice, but for Steven Dillingham, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Census Bureau director.

It’s a deceptively important position, and past time a permanent director was nominated. The census happens every 10 years and affects everything from how many members each state has in the House of Representatives to how many federal dollars our communities receive. The next count is in 2020, and problems lie ahead.

In the spring, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made the deeply mistaken decision to add a citizenship question to the big 2020 census (the question is asked during smaller counts). The census, a scientific undertaking, is supposed to count people in America where they live, including noncitizens. The point is to count everyone. If noncitizens are afraid to respond due to an anti-immigrant climate, they and relatives who might be citizens will be missed, leading communities to lose representation and funds and blurring the accurate picture of who lives where that underlies so many public-policy decisions.

That’s why multiple lawsuits are proceeding to prevent the late inclusion of the citizenship question. Documents released this week from one suit show how fervently (and how early) the Trump administration pushed for the citizenship question.

In upcoming nomination hearings, senators must delve into the potential director’s views on the citizenship question and how its impact on the count’s accuracy can be mitigated. Dillingham is director of the Office of Strategic Information, Research, and Planning for the Peace Corps. He has previously directed smaller federal statistical agencies, and should also be questioned carefully on his ability to run one of the most complicated government tasks. Most of all, he must make this an apolitical census. His connections to the hyperconservative American Legislative Exchange Council are concerning. He must commit to a careful, thorough census in 2020. This isn’t the place for political games.