The Atlantic

The 2020 Census Is Already in Big Trouble

From cybersecurity issues to administrative problems to a legal drama over a possible citizenship question, there are plenty of reasons to worry about the decennial head count.
Source: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty

Nobody will write songs about the census. Among the fabled pillars underpinning the country’s democracy, the great American head count is often relegated to a dusty corner. In the nine interstitial years between each tally, analysis and development of a more perfect instrument take place mostly hidden from public view. There have been only 22 U.S. censuses—Presidents Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson never administered one—but the rarity of the event has not assigned it a special blue-moon-like significance among the public. For most people, the census is a vague, decennial annoyance, nothing more.

But the census is vital to the country’s functioning. It’s not just a count of all households or a measure of American characteristics. It’s also

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