Census A Test For Dubya

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., center, accompanied by fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus, gestures during a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2000. From left are, Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., Rep. Carrie Meek, D-Fla., Rep. Elijah, Cummings, D-Md., Clyburn, Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas.
Stumping on his platform of "compassionate conservatism," George W. Bush reached out to minorities, promising over and over again that he would work hard to make sure every American has a voice.

Mr. Bush's campaign-season push included the high-profile courting of Hispanics in California, an appearance at the NAACP's national convention in Maryland and a strong focus on minorities at the Republican National Convention.

Ultimately, Mr. Bush fared poorly with minority voters, especially blacks. But when he was finally named the winner in the contested presidential election earlier this month, he nevertheless made a point of reiterating his goal to lead all Americans, "not just the ones who voted for me."

One of Mr. Bush's first chances to make good on his mantra of inclusion will come just weeks into his nascent presidency, when states choose the method they will use to redraw their congressional boundaries. The work of redistricting is based on census data, but it's unclear whether the straight head count or statistical sampling methods will be used.

Census Glossary

Apportionment:The most basic reason for the census. Apportionment is the process of deciding how many representatives each state will send to Congress. The 2000 census saw a major shift of representation.

Census Block: The atomic unit of the census, over 7 million of which make up the total area of the country.

Redistricting: A state-level process, tied directly to the census, of redrawing political boundaries based on population changes. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that sampling may be used in the redistricting process, but not in apportionment.

Sampling: Using methods of statistical analysis to account for people missed (or double-counted) by census-takers.

Two-track census: Refers to the two sets of data released by the census bureau. One set is a straight head count; the second is enhanced with sampling methods.

Minorities say the raw data, released in a Dec. 28 gala ceremony, leaves them underrepresented. But they accepted the so-called "two-track census," which uses both statistically sampled and raw data, because the U.S. Supreme Court allowed for sampling methods to be used for boundary lines.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are passionate on this issue, even if it flies below many Americans' political radar screens. Not only are minority lawmakers extremely protective of their congressional districts, they are acutely aware that the census results are used to allocate billions of federal dollars.

Mr. Bush has the power to block the release of the sampled numbers, or to make them available and use the White House as a bully pulpit to encourage states to use them. But he has not yet state what he will do.

"The president-elect's position during the campaign was that we wanted to make sure that the numbers are accurate and reliable," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said this week. "His position throughout the campaign was that we needed an accurate head count, and that he wants to make sure that whatever is done is both accurate and reliable."

For minority lawmakers, who are already incensed by the Supreme Court decision that made Mr. Bush the president, and by Mr. Bush's subsequent choice of conservative Sen. John Ashcroft to be attorney general, this kind of language amounts to a stall tactic. And they are running out of patience.

"Why hedge? If you are going to hedge on the issue, what does that mean?" Rep. James E. Clyburn, head of the Congressional Black Caucus, told CBSNews.com. Clyburn worries that the conservative wing of the GOP, which is opposed to the use of sampling, may have Mr. Bush's ear on the issue. Rep. Clyburn's caucus seems to expect the worst.

"I would love to be proved wrong," added Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat. "The test will be whether or not communities of color get fair allocation with respect to federal dollars. The only way for communities of color to get anything approaching a fair allocation is for us to have statistical sampling. There is no other way. If you use the head count ... you will under-fund communities of color and lock them into 10 years of subpar treatment."

Politically, the incoming administration has almost total power over the future of census sampling, since the executive branch runs the Commerce Department, which in turn runs the census. Scientifically, however, the preponderance of evidence supports the use of sampling.

"We know [sampling is] good science, but it's more than that. It's the way we acquit our basic obligation to equality," said Robert J. Shapiro, under-secretary for economic affairs, who attended the unveiling but is not a census official. Shapiro clearly was sending a signal on behalf of the outgoing Clinton administration.

Even census officials, who are extremely careful to remain nonpartisan, say science supports the use of sampling.

"The boss [Bureau of the Census Director Kenneth Prewitt] ... has said repeatedly, that sampling is a good thing," a census official said Friday on condition of anonymity.

Officials from the census bureau will make a recommendation to Director Prewitt in late February. Prewitt will then pass the recommendation on to Mr. Bush and incoming Commerce Secretary Don Evans.

"The states can use either the raw count or the enhanced numbers if - that's an if - the enhanced numbers are even produced," the census official said.

"What I've heard, is that the new secretary of commerce is studying the issue and hasn't made up his mind," said Tom Hofeller, redistricting director of the Republican National Committee.

Census officials say they will recommend the use of sampling, but Mr. Bush has the ultimate authority.

Mr. Bush's position on the census and redistricting is not clear. What is clear is that, if Mr. Bush blocks the use of statistical sampling, it will further undermine his status among minority lawmakers.