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Thursday, May 27, 2021

Counting Students and Prisoners

 Paul Mitchell at The Redistricting Report notes that the Census Bureau needed to count college students just as the pandemic emptied campuses.

It appeared to be a problem, but the Census Bureau assured college students they’d be all counted together at their respective campuses through a process called Group Quarters whereby the bureau receives manual tallies of the populations of college dormitories, nursing homes, and prisons based on the records kept for those facilities instead of direct interviews with the census enumerators or self-responses. You can really geek out on how this process is performed by reading the Census Bureau’s blogpost about it.

And for many this was confusing. What if a student was living off campus, not in the dorms? Would they be counted in the group-quarters or would they have to report themselves as living in their off-campus apartment? What if their parents already put them on their census form – would they be in trouble if they got double-counted? This was something that colleges were email blasting students about as they wanted them to report as living in their college community.

The census has a process for de-duplicating in a case where someone is accidentally, or purposefully reported being in two places at once. They also have processes for imputing populations where there was no reporting at all – which could have been significant in a once-bustling college town that turned into a ghost town overnight.

And that’s where the Republican lawsuit comes in. The GOP harbors some doubt about how those headcounts were arrived at and they’re suing to find out exactly how the Census arrived at the numbers of students who will be counted at college campuses, which often carry significant heft in the drawing of electoral districts.

Similarly, in the increasing number of states like California that are confronting the “prison gerrymander,” Group Quarters plays a part as well. These states are planning to count prison inmates in the communities they resided in at the time of arrest instead of where they were incarcerated on April 1. For California, that’s an estimated 116,000 people statewide that would be removed from the headcounts in the largely rural communities in the Central Valley and desert communities, depleting them of that redistricting currency in the upcoming redraw. A higher prison imputation by the Census Bureau in Kings County’s prison facilities, for example, means that county will have that many more individuals removed from their population base in the maps drawn for Congress, Assembly, and Senate.