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Census results are used to draw district lines, allocate seats in Congress, and distribute government funding for essential services. The Brennan Center fights to ensure a fair and accurate census.

Icon for Gerrymandering & Fair Representation Gerrymandering & Fair Representation

Why It Matters

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a count of everyone living in the country. The results are used to decide how many seats each state has in Congress, draw district boundaries for everything from congressional seats to city council seats, and allocate over $1 trillion each year in government funding for services like education, food assistance, infrastructure, and more.

The 2020 census faced a barrage of obstacles, from improper interference by the Trump administration to chronic underfunding to the Covid-19 pandemic. The administration’s failed efforts to add an untested citizenship question and to rush counting and data-processing procedures at the last minute sowed fear and confusion about participating in the count. While the census escaped complete disaster, it fell far short of its goal of counting every person. Communities of color continue to be undercounted at disproportionate rates, with Black, Latino, and Native American people in particular missing from the numbers at unacceptably high levels. Meanwhile, overall census response rates remain stuck in a decades’ long rut.

The Brennan Center is pursuing a far-reaching advocacy, organizing, and public education campaign to protect and improve the census. We helped block the citizenship question and extend the timeline for the count. And with the 2020 census now behind us, we are advocating for reforms to census law and policy to ensure that future censuses are more legitimate, accurate, and equitable.


Limit Executive Interference in the Count

Political interference that hampers the collection of accurate and equitable census results must be prevented. Congress should increase the independence of the Census Bureau and limit the involvement of political appointees in the bureau’s work.

Improve and Protect the Bureau’s Data Collection Methods

Census operations must be transformed for future decades. This includes loosening restrictions on counting methods and urging the bureau to resolve long-standing issues, such as incorporating a Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) ethnic reporting category and a Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) question on the questionnaire.

End Prison Gerrymandering

Prison gerrymandering deprives communities of color who are disproportionately represented in the prison system of their fair share of political representation. Efforts to count incarcerated people at their pre-incarceration addresses for future censuses should be supported and bolstered.

Vigor­ously Enforce Laws Protect­ing Confid­en­ti­al­ity

The law is clear that census responses must remain confid­en­tial and cannot be used against indi­vidu­als in any way. The govern­ment should broad­cast its commit­ment to census confid­en­ti­al­ity and put in place stronger safe­guards against misuse.

Ensure Adequate Funding for the Census

Congress should approve suffi­cient fund­ing to ensure a complete and accur­ate count in 2030 and beyond.

Read more in our census reform report.


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