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When transmitting the first census results to President George Washington in 1791, Jefferson complained, “we know in fact that the omissions have been very great.” The secretary of State was grievously worried the enemies of the new American republic would mistake this undercount for a weakness in the new nation.
Failing to answer the census is akin to failing to register for the selective service, which is punishable by a fine of $250,000 and five years in jail. The selective service imposes on your personal liberty, but the national interest requires having a ready registry in case of national emergency.
In South Carolina, failing to appear for jury duty is subject to a court fine and other penalties. In that state, the obligation to secure a jury of one’s peers trumps any imposition on a prospective juror’s personal liberty — as do an accurate count of the nation and the enormous benefits to businesses and local communities that come from the ACS.
In a demonstration of the importance that the framers placed on the census, they embedded it in the Constitution even before they turned to the issue of membership in the House or composition of the Senate. Here’s hoping the Senate comes to the rescue of Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 and restores full funding to the Census Bureau and the ACS.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) is a senior member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has jurisdiction over the census.