STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The Trump administration is trying again to finish the U.S. census. Late yesterday, the administration appealed to the Supreme Court to allow counting to stop right away. Two lower courts have already told the Census Bureau to keep on counting until October 31. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has covered the census all along and is on the line. Good morning.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What exactly does the administration want from the Supreme Court now that we're up to October 8?
WANG: This - the Trump administration wants the Supreme Court to block an order by a judge in California that requires counting throughout October 31 because they say if they end soon, they - there may be a chance that they can meet this legal deadline of December 31 for reporting the new state population counts used to reallocating seats in the House of Representatives. But career officials at the Census Bureau have said for months they can't meet that deadline because of delays caused by the pandemic.
INSKEEP: And as your research has shown, there have been past censuses where the deadline was missed without any ill effects. So why is the administration so focused on it?
WANG: Meeting this December 31 deadline means that even if President Trump doesn't win reelection, he would still receive these new population counts from the - of each state while he's still at the White House. And that makes it more likely that he can try to make an unprecedented change to these numbers that determine each state's share of seats in Congress.
You know, the 14th Amendment of the Constitution says those counts must include, quote, "the whole number of persons in each state." President Trump wants to exclude unauthorized immigrants. And federal courts - a federal court in New York has already ruled President Trump doesn't have the power to make that change. But the administration is trying to get the Supreme Court right now to overturn that ruling.
INSKEEP: How is the constant court battling and uncertainty affecting the actual count?
WANG: It's thrown this last stage of counting further into just chaos. You know, there's been such a rush over these past few weeks in some parts of the country because of these uncertain timelines and schedules have really just raised questions about the accuracy of the counting efforts. A lot of census workers may have been under pressure to get the count done sooner and may have been focusing more on that rather than getting a good, accurate count and maybe have relied on neighbors of unresponsive households to get information.
And Census Bureau research has shown that increases the risk for inaccuracy, especially about people of color, other historically undercounted groups. And that could have long-term implications because the census is about how power and money are shared in this country over a decade. We're talking about, again, seats in Congress, votes in Electoral College, which determines who becomes president in 2024 and 2028, as well as trillions in federal money for health care, schools and roads that are a tie guided by census numbers, again, for the next 10 years.
INSKEEP: That all sounds kind of dire. But we did hear a reassuring sounding number from Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, when he was on this program with you and I yesterday. He kept saying they're just about complete with the counting. Let's listen.
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WILBUR ROSS: We didn't need as many calendar days to complete the census. And that's why we are already at - 99.7% of all the households have already been enumerated. And that's a tenth of a percent better than in 2010.
INSKEEP: That is an impressive-sounding number. But is it impressive?
WANG: It's a national rate, Steve. It's not an indicator of how complete the census is in every state. Career officials at the bureau have set a goal of 99% in each state. As of Tuesday, four states have not yet hit 99% - South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana. And it's an open question whether or not they will hit it by the time counting ends.
INSKEEP: OK. Hansi, thanks for the fact-checking and all your reporting, really appreciate it.
WANG: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Hansi Lo Wang.
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