Trump Plans to Sabotage 2020 Census by Cutting Short Operations

Media 07.31,20

Contact: Tamika Turner, [email protected], 419.913.8088

WASHINGTON –  Following reports that the U.S. Census Bureau is cutting by one month census door knocking and, potentially, the self-response option, Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights released the following statement:

“Trump is again seeking to destroy the integrity and accuracy of the census for partisan gain. If his plan proceeds,the census won’t be a true portrait of America, and every state and community will have to live for ten years under the harm of an unfinished count.  Curtailing operations is an obvious ploy to guarantee the Census Bureau won’t be able to finish counting millions of people — especially those hit hardest by the pandemic. Trump must not be allowed to cheat people of color, people with disabilities, and other communities out of their right to participate in the 2020 Census and the health care, education, housing, and fair representation they deserve. The Census Bureau must have the time and space it needs for a safe and accurate count. Congress must extend the 2020 census reporting deadlines in the next COVID-19 package.”

This announcement comes as the Trump administration is abandoning its previous request to have Congress extend the statutory deadlines for reporting apportionment and redistricting data from the 2020 Census. While the House-passed HEROES Act extended these deadlines to protect the census and our democracy,  the extension is missing from the Senate COVID-19 bill.


Forcing the U.S. Census Bureau to rush the census in the middle of a pandemic is part of an intentional plot to sabotage the census to reflect a less diverse and inaccurate portrait of America. A rushed census shortchanges critical operations that count people of color, American Indians, low-income people, and people experiencing homelessness. This would skew Congressional representation, redistricting, and critical funding for every state in the country.   

Trump is trying to decide who counts and who doesn’t and we’re all collateral damage.


1. Drive down census participation by pushing unconstitutional but eye-catching political ploys to sow fear and confusion in immigrant communities

Trump’s failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census and his recent memorandum to keep undocumented immigrants from being included in data reported for congressional apportionment have one thing in common: they’re unconstitutional and were put forth knowing they would likely be struck down by the courts. The real goal is to scare and confuse immigrants, people in mixed-status families, and broader immigrant communities away from participating in the 2020 Census.

Even now that the Supreme Court has spoken, many people don’t know that the citizenship question isn’t on the census. Census advocates are doubling down on outreach and also having to clear up confusion for immigrants who think Trump’s memo means they can’t participate in the census — that’s by design.

2. Ensure decisions about who counts when calculating congressional apportionment are made under a Trump presidency by withdrawing its request to give the Census Bureau time to navigate COVID-19

In light of significant delays and disruptions to 2020 Census operations due to the public health crisis, in April 2020, the administration, alongside experts within the Census Bureau, asked Congress to push back the December 31, 2020 deadline for transmitting the state population totals used for congressional apportionment to the president, to April 30, 2021. The administration is withdrawing the request because, in the event that Trump does not serve a second term, he would be unable to try and implement his unconstitutional memorandum to keep undocumented immigrants from being counted for congressional apportionment.

This undermines the Census Bureau’s plan to extend the census to give the door-to-door counting operation the time, space, and protection to be implemented correctly, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Rushing the timeline could mean moving prematurely into communities with high rates of COVID-19 that can’t support door-knocking and runs counter to the bureau’s own plan. It also hampers its ability to implement a safety audit of current and planned operations during COVID-19, as called for by census advocates. Implementing any needed adjustments to ensure a safe and effective 2020 Census will take time and cannot be rushed.

3. Force the Census Bureau to skip millions of people of color, rural residents, people with disabilities, and more by disrupting the modified timeline crafted by experts.

At a July 8th press briefing, Census Bureau Associate Director Al Fontenot stated unequivocally that, due to COVID-19,  it was too late for the Census Bureau to finish census operations well and report initial results by the current statutory deadline of December 31, 2020.

Cutting door knocking, and potentially self-response, short by a month and abandoning the request to extend the reporting deadlines, will force the bureau to rush counting operations, critical data review,  processing, and tabulation.

2020 response rates already lag behind 2010 rates because of COVID-19’s impact, especially for communities that have been undercounted for decades. The Census Bureau is entering the door-to-door counting operation with the lowest response rates in recent memory. That means there are even households that haven’t responded to the census on their own and a compressed timeline will be impossible without skipping households and short-changing the census operations specifically created to target the communities historically missed by the census, including:

  • Door-to-door enumeration, the largest, costliest, and most labor-intensive operation of the 2020 Census, which disproportionately covers the historically undercounted population groups and communities that exist in every corner of the country;
  • Special operations to hand-deliver census packets in rural and remote communities, on American Indian reservations, in areas recovering from natural disasters, in Alaska, and in Puerto Rico;
  • Enumeration of people experiencing homelessness;
  • Facilitating internet access in low self-response neighborhoods, including the congressionally-mandated Mobile Questionnaire Assistance operation). 

A successful 2020 Census requires counting hard-to-count communities and effectively following-up with those who didn’t respond on their own. That task is a high bar under usual circumstances — but it’s even higher during a pandemic; and even higher still when the political administration itself is trying to sabotage the career staff’s efforts.

A failed census fails the whole country. Rushing key census operations means dumping a $16 billion investment and undermining the allocation of trillions of dollars for the next decade. Every state in the country, along with millions of people who have been shortchanged again and again, will lose out on funding and fair representation if Trump forces the Census Bureau to produce an unfinished count of unacceptable quality.


The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 220 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its member organizations, visit