Gaming the system

In light of Dr. Slammy’s post earlier, and previous posts on the “giver” and “taker” status of individual states within the Union, George Kenney has a post up at Electric Politics that’s worth adding to the discussion.

Since we no longer add new districts/Members to the House (we should, but that’s another story), with each census in the modern era we reshuffle the existing 435 districts among states. If you think about it, then, those states with the greatest population of illegal immigrants gain a disproportionate advantage in representation in Congress. States with large numbers of illegal immigrants have more representatives per American citizen than states with few or no illegal immigrants.


(And read the rest at EP. I’d also highly recommend adding Kenney’s podcasts to your to-do list.)

14 replies »

  1. Wait – the census counts undocumented aliens? And the system assigns representation based on those results?

    I did not know that.

  2. To be sure i looked at the online sample of the short form. There’s nothing about citizenship. I didn’t realize it either…of course i just saw that it was addressed to “resident” and then Robin filled it out so i hadn’t even seen the form until i checked tonight.

    There’s a few states that must do pretty well because of this…if undocumented aliens fill out the form.


  3. Here’s what happened last time:


    The Census Bureau tries to get an accurate picture of the population as it exists. For their purposes, a citizenship question would be not only counterproductive (it’s hard enough to get undocumented residents to participate) but irrelevant…

    So how would anyone figure out the numbers, I wonder?

  4. Thanks, Ann. Agreed, from the Census Bureau’s perspective it’s immaterial. The rub (and i don’t have time to read your link right now, maybe it answers the question) is that if Congressional representation is going to be based on the census count and the census counts undocumented aliens…assuming that they respond…then it does skew representation in favor of states with large alien populations.

    This wouldn’t be a problem at all if we had a sensible immigration policy, and those undocumented aliens who may be lending their numbers to Congressional districts were partaking fully in American society…like decent wages and worker protection and the rest.

  5. turns out i did i have time, and the states that gained seats in 2000 are all states with large populations of undocumented aliens. (Note: i’m not saying that they caused the seat gain, some of those states are also popular retirement destinations for people who live in the states that lost seats.)

  6. It seems like the logical conclusion.

    And I understand the argument that non-voting non-citizens maybe shouldn’t earn your state more representation. On the other hand, they create wealth. They use resources. They need to be accounted for in emergency planning and social services. So if they count in reality, shouldn’t they count in politics?

    I totally agree that the only real solution is a rational immigration policy. Meanwhile, I suppose there’s always the “3/5 of a person” idea…

  7. But they can’t vote, so some citizens get more representation than others while the undocumented aliens don’t get any representation. Worse, too often the extra representatives make their political points by being against the immigrants.

    So i wouldn’t argue that undocumented aliens should be discounted in the census, but rather that we might need a new way to figure out congressional representation. I’d consider using voter registration and even some statistical analysis of turnout over the previous decade. Representation based on participation.

  8. Oh hell. I was trying to be all even-handed and shit.

    I think it’s ridiculous to discount anyone living and working and eating and breathing in a census of the area in which they’re performing every aspect of life. If you’re there, you count. And if at some pie-in-the-sky future date we get rational immigration policies, it’ll all come out in the wash.

    As far as legitimizing representation for the entire population in other ways, like going by voter registration, it’s the same battle. If you’re breaking the law by existing, you don’t want to leave a paper trail. Period.

    So it’s an interesting, if relatively quiet, battle. Some churches and community leaders are urging undocumented residents to purposely avoid the census, to demonstrate what really happens if you “don’t count” that many human beings. Meanwhile, their philosophical polar opposites are urging that the same thing be put into law as a prohibition. Weird.

  9. Funny, i was trying to be the same thing.

    I’m not arguing that they shouldn’t be counted. They should be counted, because getting the count is about a lot more than divvying up congressional representatives. But if they’re going to get the representatives, then they should get to vote for the representatives.

    My point is that politicians are the only ones winning in this, and that too often those politicians aren’t even interested in representing the undocumented aliens who may be (it’s unproven) making their political careers possible. In general, the anti-immigration politicians are from states that are most likely to gain, politically, from counting undocumented aliens in the census. Or maybe i just don’t hear the gentle(wo)men from Wisconsin talking about sealing up the border as a campaign plank.

    Given the total situation, this is not the best way to divvy up congressional representation. And frankly, it leaves the undocumented screwed over a few extra times. I don’t know how to fix it (shy of comprehensive and sane immigration reform); i only suggested that one way would be to separate congressional districting from the census count. The only people the current system helps – immigration policy and congressional districting based on the census count – are the wrong people.

  10. Yup.

    A clear divide between counting people for planning purposes and counting people for voting purposes isn’t clear at all, of course. People are so messy.

  11. We could always count twice…Bob Villa’s maxim of “measure twice, cut once” is applicable to more than just carpentry.

  12. Sorry. It’s just that i’ve heard Bob say it so many times i didn’t even realize that he stole it.

  13. Okay, I guess Norm didn’t make it up, either… but he’s still a god among craftsmen.