New Technology Created for 2020 Census May Help to Count People of Color in Remote Areas

The U.S. Census Bureau has been facing harsh criticism for its plans to try to accurately count people of color for the 2020 Census. The agency is planning internet and telephone questionnaires – which are pretty useless for people in rural areas without reliable communication infrastructure, such as tribal communities.

In order to combat that, the agency will use new technology to try to improve the census count: geographic information system, or GIS. GIS uses computers to analyze neighborhoods, land formations, rivers and other data captured by satellites or traditional mapping. The U.S. Census Bureau has used geographic tech since 1990, but this is the first time there will be such accurate tools used in the air, according to the Associated Press.

These aerial images of rural and poor communities will be used to verify addresses and determine where to send workers to ensure everyone is counted, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham told the Associated Press.

Getting an accurate count for the 2020 Census is of the utmost importance for states with large poor and/or communities of color. If tribal areas and communities of color are undercounted, the amount of federal money states receive and whether they gain or lose U.S. congressional seats will be at stake. Being undercounted means being underrepresented at the federal and state level.

Two states that census advocates are most concerned about are New Mexico and Mississippi. For example, in Mississippi’s majority-Black Bolivar County, only 59.7% of households mailed back their 2010 census questionnaire, according to CUNY’s Center for Urban Research.

Another controversial aspect of the tally is including a 2020 Census question about citizenship — which will be decided by the Supreme Court this year. The combination of the citizenship question and chronic undercounting could lead to exactly what Republicans want, according to recently discovered files.

The files show what many have long guessed — a 2015 study concluded that a citizenship question to the 2020 Census “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and would benefit “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.” The true purpose of the question would not be to enforce the Voting Rights Act, as Republicans have tried to say.