Census Revisited - 2007

Mark Fennell


Introduction / Periodic Surveys / Decennial enumeration

Constitution and Census / Intrusive Questions / Statistical Sampling

The Only Questions Needed / Optional Questions



The Census has long been an important issue for me.

I worked in the 2000 Census. At that time, I believed that the questions were very intrusive (as did most Americans). I also found that the methods used were very questionable (more invasions of privacy, and fines for not answering questions).

During the months of the Census, from April until October, I heard many people complain about the questions. However, nobody knew what they could do about it. Thus, reforming the Census became one of my personal causes.

This was the primary issue for me to become an activist, and led me to join the e-minutemen.

In those years, my time was devoted to creating the website, to my day job, and to researching my other books, so the Census reform would have to wait.

Things have changed since that time, both for me and for the nation.

Personally, several things have happened: 1) I have become more skilled at researching, 2) I have studied hundreds of government agencies thoroughly, and 3) I am continuing to take legal courses and embark on a legal career.

Nationally, important things have taken place, such as terrorism and immigration. We will elect a new President in 2008.

However, the year 2010 is approaching, and this will be our next Census date.

I do not want the intrusive questions of the 2000 Census being asked in 2010. Nor do I want to see any questions on race. Finally, I do not want to hear any more about "statistical sampling" when the people should be counted directly.

This confluence of events has led me to research and study the Census Bureau in greater detail. I have read the primary authority for the Census Bureau: the Federal Law (Title 13 of the U.S. Code). I would like to share with you some important concepts.

These are things I wanted to know in 2000, but only now was I able to research and understand.

Periodic Surveys

The Census Bureau conducts periodic surveys on numerous topics. These surveys are independent of the 10 year survey done for population count and redistricting.

I believe this to be acceptable.

There are many topics surveyed by the Census Bureau. Most of these surveys are done for other agencies, such as the Department of Labor, Department of Transportation, and so forth. Again, this is fine, but it does not need to be on the 10 year census.

Also, the Census Bureau uses "sampling" and "statistical techniques" for these other surveys. This means that only a few businesses, homes etc are surveyed (a sample), and the numbers are extrapolated up (using statistical techniques) to try to estimate the answers if everyone was surveyed. These results are then passed on to the Department of Labor, Transportation etc. to help them make decisions on behalf of the people.

My opinion is that sampling is acceptable for these surveys, but not for the 10 year population count.

Decennial enumeration

The words "Decennial enumeration" means the 10 year population count, as required by the Constitution for electing Representatives.

Constitution and Census

Congress addressed the Constitution and the Census in a law passed in 1997. Some of the words are as follows:

"The sole constitutional purpose of the decennial enumeration of the population is the apportionment of Representatives in Congress among the several states."

In other words, there is no need for the 10 year Census to ask any other questions than those related to population.

Intrusive Questions / Questions Need Approval

How do we prevent intrusive questions on the 10 year census? I found out that the questions to be asked on the census MUST be APPROVED by Congress. This has been federal law since 1976.

According the federal law, the steps required prior to the 10-year Census are as follows:

1. No later than three (3) years before the census date, the Secretary of Commerce must submit a report to the appropriate committee of Congress which states:

a) the subjects to be included in the census

b) the types of information to be compiled in the census


2. No later than two (2) years before the census date, the Secretary of Commerce must submit a report to the appropriate committee of Congress which states:

a) the questions proposed to be included in the census


3. After the reports above, the Secretary of Commerce must submit a report to congress any new subjects, types of information, or questions which should be included in the census.


Therefore, all census questions must be submitted to Congress before the census date.

If you want to plan ahead for the 2010 census, note the years:

1. By 2007: The 3-year report must be submitted (and approved) in 2007.

2. By 2008: The 2-year report (with specific questions to be asked) must be submitted, and approved, by 2008. You can look over the questions then, and give your comments.

This wont be publicized much, if at all, but you will be able to look at the questions at this time, and tell the committee members what you think.

Note that the questions can be submitted earlier than 2008; the law states the questions must be submitted before two years prior to the Census. So, this might be done at any time before 2008.

FYI, these provisions are found in Title 13 of the U.S. Code, Chapter 5, subchapter II, section 141. (I cite this just so you know I have actually read the law, and am not creating any fiction.)

Regarding Statistical Sampling

The 1976 law left the issue of Statistical Sampling open to the discretion of the Secretary of Commerce.

However, the 1997 law clearly stated that statistical sampling is forbidden in the 10-year Census.

Some of the words from that 1997 law regarding statistical sampling are as follows:

"Article I, section 2, clause 3 of the Constitution clearly requires an 'actual enumeration' of the population."


"...section 195 of Title 13, U.S. Code, clearly provides "Except for the determination of population for purposes of apportionment of Representatives in Congress, the Secretary shall, if he considers it feasible, authorize the use of the statistical method known as sampling." "

(In other words, sampling can be done in other things, but never for the 10-year Census).


"The decennial enumeration of the population is one of the most critical constitutional functions our Federal Government performs. It is essential that the decennial enumeration of the population be as accurate as possible. The use of statistical sampling or statistical adjustment in conjunction with an actual enumeration to carry out the census with respect to any segment of the population poses the risk of an inaccurate, invalid, and unconstitutional census."


"Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the use of any statistical method, in connection with a decennial census, for the apportionment or redistricting or Members in Congress."


Notice that this law was passed in 1997. Therefore there should have been no talk at all about sampling in 2000. This was already declared illegal, and the Census Bureau was not allowed to do it. The same laws will apply to the Census of 2010.

The Only Questions Needed

The 10-year survey should only ask those questions related to population. This includes: number of people (the main purpose), and verification data (names, addresses, phone numbers).

The verification data is important to make sure everyone was counted, and that no person was counted twice. (This is one positive lesson I learned from my experience as a Census worker.)

Optional Questions

Another approach is to make the additional (and intrusive) questions optional. If these questions were made optional, then people would have a choice. Certainly some Americans will choose to answer some of the questions. The Census Bureau would get some responses to these questions, from which they could use their statistical techniques to estimate for each region. This would aid the Census Bureau in gathering the other statistics it provides to other government agencies.

Furthermore, if these questions are optional, Americans will not be forced to divulge personal information. In addition, the Census Bureau will get more completed surveys back. (From my experience as Census worker in 2000, I found that most of the surveys not returned were not returned specifically because of those intrusive questions; hence, without an invasion of privacy, more Americans will complete the surveys.)

However, several specific items must take place for the "optional" questions to be handled properly:

1. The questions must clearly be labeled as optional.

2. The questionnaire must refer to a Census Bureaus webpage. This webpage will explain, for each optional question, why the questions are asked, and for what specific purposes the answers will be used.

3. The Census Bureau staff will respect the optional provisions as optional. If the respondent did not answer an optional question, that omission will not make his form incomplete.

4. There will be no fines for any American who chooses not to answer any optional question.


The Census Bureau conducts many surveys each year. The Constitutional 10-year survey is but one of the surveys they conduct. These surveys help other agencies make informed decisions, which (ideally) should help the people. It is acceptable that the Census Bureau conducts other surveys. However, these questions should be wholly separate from the 10-year population survey.

The 10-year survey should only ask those questions related to population. This includes: number of people (the main purpose), and verification data.

The Census of 2000 asked intrusive questions, and asked ethnic/race questions. These questions are not necessary. There is nothing in the federal law which mandates any of the questions which were asked in the 2000 Census. The only questions on the 2000 Census mandated by the Constitution or federal law were those related to population. The other questions were created by the Census Bureau on their own.

We can trim the 10-year Census questions back to the original purpose. By law, the Census Bureau must submit their proposed survey questions to Congress. The people have the right to view this proposed survey, and make their comments. Congress can order the Census Bureau to remove bad questions. The next time the people have this opportunity will be in 2007 or 2008.

"Sampling" has been declared illegal for the 10-year census. Each person must be counted. There can be no extrapolating upwards of any group of people. For other surveys, such as the yearly surveys for labor and transportation, sampling can be acceptable.


Mark Fennell