Common Cause NY Says Local Census Program Helps Undercounted Communities

Oct 3, 2017

The U.S. Supreme Court was set to begin hearing arguments Tuesday on whether partisan gerrymandering is constitutional. With this case in mind, Common Cause New York and other partners are urging communities to participate in a local census program to ensure hard-to-count communities are included. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne has more on a report on the dangers of under-counting in New York.

Accurate census data helps provide for fairer congressional, state and local government legislative districts and to ensure the proper distribution of federal funding. Therefore, says Susan Lerner, undercounting in the 2020 Census could mean many states and counties will be denied funding and proper representation. Lerner is executive director of Common Cause/NY.

“Fortunately, though, there’s something that local governments can do about it by participating in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Local Update of Census Addresses — the LUCA program — to help ensure a fair and accurate, fair and complete 2020 Census count,” Lerner says.

Lerner says fewer than 25 percent of New York counties had signed up for LUCA at last check.

“Counties, cities, towns, villages have until December 15 to sign up and, as of September 27, we only have 14 counties,” Lerner says. “So, Steuben, Tioga, St. Lawrence, Cayuga, Clinton, Montgomery, Saratoga, Greene and Ulster, plus the five counties in New York City have signed up, but all of the others have not.”

Plus, she says:

“Counties that didn’t participate in LUCA in 2010 that have hard-to-count populations need some extra urging, and that’s Erie, Niagara, Schenectady, Suffolk and Westchester.”

She says there is concern about ensuring hard-to-count communities, such immigrants and rural and low-income households, are counted. Lerner says agricultural counties such as Delaware and Washington also should sign up for LUCA. Jeffrey Wice is a redistricting expert and fellow at SUNY Buffalo Law School. 

“We’ve witnessed an undercount in New York state of over 200,000 people in the 2000 Census,” Wice says. “And when that relates to the numbers of a state Senate district having 315,000 people or a state Assembly district with 130,000 people, on the average, or a congressional district of 717,000 people, everyone counts.”

Wice says New York could lose one, if not two, congressional districts after the 2020 census. Mark LaVigne is deputy director of the New York State Association of Counties and speaks to the Supreme Court case and LUCA efforts.

“The outcome of this case is very important to ensure the integrity of the Democratic process,” LaVigne says. “It has come to our attention that New York state may have been under-counted in prior census counts. This is unacceptable for the people of this state. We need to be represented.   New York is encouraging and working with all counties to sign on to the Local Updates for Census Addresses, the LUCA, to leave no stone unturned and make sure that all people are properly accounted for in the 2020 Census.”

Lerner has another concern. She says that while the Census Bureau expects to have 55 percent of responses submitted online for the 2020 Census, 5.4 million New Yorkers and 55,000 businesses do not have access to high-speed broadband internet service. Steven Romalewski is director of CUNY Mapping Services at the Center for Urban Research at The Graduate Center. He developed an interactive mapping application that highlights hard-to-count tracts nationwide.

“So the map enables anyone to zoom directly to their congressional district, again, here in New York and anywhere in the country, and get a sense of how much of that district was hard to count in 2010, how much of it will likely be hard to count in 2020 and understand the scope of the impact of a potential under-count for their district and why it’s so important to have a fair and accurate count for 2020 and to fully fund the Census Bureau’s effort,” Romalewski says.