NOEL KING, HOST:
How much political power will your state have in coming national elections? We'll start finding out today when the first results of the 2020 census are released. The census determines your state's share of seats in Congress and votes in the Electoral College. NPR census correspondent Hansi Lo Wang has been following this story. Good morning, Hansi.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: So what do we get today?
WANG: The Census Bureau says around 3 p.m. Eastern today, it's releasing a very basic set of numbers. We're talking about population counts for each state and the country. They do play a big role in reallocating seats in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. Those votes determine who becomes the next president. But we won't see any data breakdowns by race, ethnicity, age or sex or any numbers for counties, cities or smaller areas.
KING: When do we get that information?
WANG: Those are expected out by August 16. They're part of the second set of census results. They're data needed for the redrawing of voting districts, as well as other purposes. And that timing could be moved up or pushed back, depending on how two lawsuits I'm tracking - they're filed by Alabama and Ohio - how those lawsuits turn out. But important to note, both sets of census results, they're coming months later than originally planned.
KING: Yes. Why is that?
WANG: In-person counting for last year's census for most of the country started late last year. All of those lockdown orders at the very beginning of the pandemic forced the bureau to delay sending out doorknockers to visit households that didn't fill out a form on their own immediately. And then this Trump administration last July decided to cut short the time left for counting. And that really just compounded the mess that was last year's census. And the bureau was left with lots of duplicate and incomplete responses it needed to sort through. And the bureau said it needed that extra time to run quality checks.
KING: Right. So it was partly the pandemic, partly politics. Do you have any idea how accurate the numbers are?
WANG: We won't know that immediately, and we'll hopefully know more in the coming months when more detailed data come out. There are researchers with the American Statistical Association. They're doing an independent audit of the Census Bureau's work. They're expected to release a report in June. And in December, the Census Bureau will start releasing estimates about how many people may have been missed in the census, as well as rates of overcounting and undercounting groups by race and ethnicity. You know, one thing to keep in mind, no U.S. Census has been a perfect count. This is the country's 24th census, but it's only the ninth count the U.S. government's conducted that's tried to include every person living in the country in the numbers for reallocating House seats. Before the 1940 census, some American Indians were excluded from those numbers.
The other thing to keep in mind - the census is supposed to be a snapshot of the population as of April 1, 2020 - very hard to get that right. Very beginning the pandemic, lots of people moving around, lots of confusion about where to get counted. And right now, there are a lot of worries about historically undercounted groups - immigrants, people of color, renters, rural residents. The Trump administration's interference with the schedule, the pandemic, has made it really hard to pinpoint exactly where people were living. But the bureau's career officials, something else to keep in mind, said they haven't found anything so far that have suggested these numbers are not fit to be used for reallocating House seats.
KING: OK, so we get the first set of results today, and then what happens next?
WANG: They're part of a handoff process that ultimately ends with the clerk of the House of Representatives certifying these numbers and reporting them out to the states. Some states that have lost seats may end up filing lawsuits challenging how those seats were assigned. So there might be some lawsuits that shift some House seats in the end before these new House assignments are used for the 2022 midterm elections.
KING: NPR census correspondent Hansi Lo Wang. Thanks, Hansi.
WANG: You're welcome, Noel.
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