Important to get the Census right

If you think it seems there’s a little less elbow room here in North Carolina, you would be right.

And if you enjoy living here, there are more and more people agreeing with you.

As the sun set on 2018 it marked the third straight year North Carolina saw a population gain of at least 100,000 people. As of July, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the state’s population at 10.4 million souls, a jump of 113,000 from 2017. That puts North Carolina’s growth rate at 1.1 percent, well above the national average of 0.6 percent, and placed the state in the top 10 for population growth, and in the top five in terms of numeric growth.

Since 2010, the state has added 850,000 residents, a jump of 8.9 percent. The vast majority of that growth, two-thirds of it, has been from people moving here as opposed to people being born here. That said, being born here makes a difference; North Carolina is what is termed a “sticky” state.

Those born here tend to stay here.

The numbers are interesting, but behind them are political ramifications: The growth means The Old North State is on track to pick up a 14th congressional seat following the 2020 census.

Right now, the state has 13 congressional districts, but thanks to some …  er, creative electoral engineering in the 9th, we only have 12 representatives in Congress. That contest will eventually be settled.

What comes after could have a lasting impact on the state’s delegation in Congress.

North Carolina’s congressional maps have been something of a full-time jobs program for legions of lawyers since gerrymandering following the 2010 census. Newly drawn district lines were ruled unconstitutional due to racial gerrymandering and then due to partisan gerrymandering. A federal three-judge panel ruled the lines used in the 2018 election were unconstitutional, but the matter had dragged through the courts so close to voting that the plaintiffs in the case argued it was too late to change them.

We wouldn’t be surprised to see the 13 districts shuffled around in a creative manner yet again headed into the 2020 race. But following 2020 it will be 14 seats, and that will be harder to gerrymander following the census.

The first census was held in 1790 and has been held every 10 years since as required by the Constitution.

Its task is both simple and complex: To count every person in the U.S. and where they live.

The census itself may be subject to some electoral engineering. The 2020 census is the focus of a slew of lawsuits over the push to add a citizenship question for the first time since 1950.

Given the toxic national conversation over walls, deportation, ICE raids and the like, it’s a guarantee that with a citizenship question, many people, fearful of potential repercussions, will skip the census. It will guarantee an undercount in states with large numbers of immigrants, including legal immigrants and citizens in immigrant communities who might have a non-citizen living in their household.

An undercount carries real consequences in dollar terms. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill demographer Rebecca Tippett estimates more than 400,000 North Carolina children have at least one immigrant parent. In an environment of fear, it’s a given a lot of those households will skip the census.

Tippett says every person missed means a loss of nearly $1,000 in federal funding.

The census issue sounds like something a ways off in the future, but we’re on the clock. The Census Bureau has to do a population count by April 1 of 2020, send it to the president by the end of that year, and the states have to have new redistricting data in hand by April 2021.

Get it wrong, and it’s a mistake we’ll live with for a decade. For a growing North Carolina, that is unacceptable.

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