Census Samplers Fire Warning Shot

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In an early - and stern - political warning shot, a House Democrat is demanding in a press release that the Senate delay confirmation of Don Evans, President-elect Bush's nominee for commerce secretary, until he comes clean on whether he'll support the release of sampled population numbers in the upcoming census.

It was only Wednesday when Bush announced the nomination of his longtime friend and former campaign chairman to head the Commerce Department, which runs the Bureau of the Census.

"I call upon the Senate to postpone Mr. Evans' confirmation until he lets the American people know what his and the new administration's plans will be" on sampling, said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., ranking member of the House Government Reform Committee's census panel.

The first numbers from Census 2000 come out next week - raw state population totals that the Supreme Court said must be used to reapportion the 435 House seats among the states.

The Census Bureau is scheduled tentatively to produce a second count in March based on sampling, which proponents - and most statistics experts - say offers more accurate population counts.

Children, the poor, inner-city residents and minorities - groups from which voters traditionally favor Democrats - are most often undercounted in the census, experts say.

Mr. Bush has said the actual "head count" is the most accurate way to conduct the census, but neither he nor Evans has disclosed if the Bush administration will block sampling.

The issue is of particular importance to members of the House of Representatives, since their districts can literally disappear overnight, depending on how the decennial head count shifts the congressional landscape. New York state, for example, is expected to lose congressional districts - and by extension votes in the Electoral College - when the new data comes out; other states such as California are expected to gain seats.

The same Supreme Court ruling left it to states to decide which set of data to use when political redistricting begins next year. Many civil rights groups contend that not using sampling leaves minorities and the poor underrepresented in the redistricting process.

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