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Returning the Census is Our Constitutional Duty

I’m worried about this year’s census.

I’m not worried about ACORN rigging the count – we already succeeded in kicking them out of the census. I’m not worried about the President’s attempt to run the census out of the White House – we beat that power grab back last year. I’m not even worried about privacy – this year’s 10-question census form is the shortest in memory.

No, what worries me is blatant misinformation coming from otherwise well-meaning conservatives. They are trying to do the right thing, but instead they are helping big government liberals by discouraging fellow conservatives from filling out their census forms.

Early census returns are showing that conservatives have been measurably less likely than liberals to return their census forms. A recent article in the Houston Chronicle points out that conservative Texas is way behind the national average in returning census forms and some of the lowest rates are in Texas’ most conservative counties. [Update: Since the Houston Chronicle article was published, the average national census participation rate has increased to 52 percent and the rates in each of the counties mentioned in the article have increased to the following, still very low, rates: King County, 25 percent; Briscoe County, 33 percent; Culberson County, 22 percent; Newton County, 30 percent.]

Few things make will make Nancy Pelosi happier than large numbers of conservatives failing to respond to the census. If we do not respond, we will not be counted and if we are not counted, then we effectively will not exist. That would reduce conservatives’ power in elections, allow Democrats to draw more favorable congressional boundaries and help put more tax-hiking politicians in office.

Boycotting the census also offends me as an American patriot. Our society spends too much time talking about what government owes us; and not enough on the duties of citizenship and the hard work required to keep our freedom. Filling out the census is one of the few things our Constitution specifically asks of U.S. citizens and it is our duty as Americans to take that responsibility seriously.

Anyone who tells you that this year’s census is unconstitutional and that you are not required to fill out the form completely is flat out wrong. They argue that because this year’s census asks for more than a simple count of how many people live in your home, it is unconstitutional and therefore should not be completely filled out. That argument doesn’t stand up to either history or the Constitution’s text.

Let’s take a look at the Constitution’s wording on the census:

The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. (Article I, Section 2, Clause 3)

That last part, “in such a manner as they shall by law direct,” gives Congress the power to determine how the census will be conducted and what questions will be asked. A lot of what the federal government does relies on an utterly contorted reading of the Commerce Clause. Not the census. Writing census questions is one of the few things the Constitution explicitly gives Congress the power to do.

History also makes clear that this argument is completely unfounded. Every census in U.S. history has asked for more information than a simple count. In fact, the most private question on this year’s form asks for an individual’s race and that question has been asked by every census since the 1790 census conducted under then-President George Washington. To suggest that this question or others like it make this year’s census unconstitutional is absurd.

No one has advocated a direct boycott of the census but there have been calls to only partially fill out census forms – even though that would be a direct violation of federal law. Those calls are the problem. They feed a climate of mistrust in the census and need to be refuted. Unless conservatives understand how important it is to participate in the census, that climate will result in fewer conservatives being counted and hand Nancy Pelosi more congressional seats.

I and other conservatives have worked hard to fight off the Obama Administration’s harmful census plans. We fought off their attempt to run the census directly. We fought off ACORN’s attempt to participate and we fought off ill-conceived statistical sampling schemes that would artificially inflate the number of Democrat voters. We have been largely successful in keeping this count apolitical and it would be a tragedy if some of our ill-informed friends handed Democrats a victory at the last minute.

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