Ariz. rejects sampling in census

Law requires head count in remapping legislative, congressional districts

April 25, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- While Republicans and Democrats in Congress continue high-stakes maneuvering over the 2000 Census, the state of Arizona has sent Washington a defiant message on what kinds of numbers will -- and won't -- be acceptable inside its borders.

A new Arizona law, whipped through the Republican-controlled Legislature on a largely party-line vote and signed Thursday by GOP Gov. Jane Dee Hull, would require the state to use only population figures from a straight head count as it remaps legislative and congressional districts.

The law is the first in the nation to spurn Clinton administration plans to correct chronic undercounts of poor and racial and ethnic minority populations through a technique known as statistical sampling. Several other Republican-controlled statehouses could follow Arizona's lead.

The action in Arizona underscored a fundamental political reality of the census: While the federal government counts the population, states hold the crucial power of legislative mapmaking.

The Arizona law gives potent evidence that even if the national debate over the census process subsides on Capitol Hill, the fight will persist elsewhere and probably wind up in the courts.

Redistricting relies on detailed census data that the federal government must deliver to the states by April 1, 2001.

The population numbers also are used to apportion the 435 seats in the House of Representatives among the 50 states.

For the House reapportionment, a recent Supreme Court decision requires the Census Bureau to provide a traditional head count of the population to the president by Dec. 31, 2000.

What has made the 2000 Census controversial -- and stirred the wrath of Republicans in Arizona and several other states -- is a separate plan by the administration to augment the traditional count with population estimates taken from a follow-up survey of 300,000 households.

The sample-adjusted numbers could be used when states set the boundaries for their congressional and legislative seats, as well as for other uses, including calculations for doling out federal aid to states.

Census officials, supported by Democrats, say the use of sampling will enhance the accuracy of their count. But many Republicans charge that the sampling will yield numbers of dubious credibility.

Hull, the Arizona governor, "believes that the appropriate way to count people is to actually count them and that if you are going to make districting decisions, you make it based on where people are -- not on estimating where they are," said Francie Noyes, her press secretary.

Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt noted this week that states are not constitutionally required to use federal data to draw legislative boundaries. In fact, census experts point out that until the late 1980s, Massachusetts and Kansas conducted their own censuses for internal political use.

Prewitt said that in 2001, the bureau plans to make publicly available two sets of detailed data -- numbers with the population sample, endorsed by the bureau, and numbers without.

On the Arizona rebellion, Prewitt said: "If that becomes law in Arizona, then so be it."

Tim Storey, a census expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said anti-sampling legislation is being considered in Kansas, Colorado, Minnesota, Indiana, Alaska, Oklahoma and New Jersey.

In Washington, House GOP leaders have begun talks with Democrats that could allow the administration's census plans to proceed without the threat of cutting off funds for the Commerce Department, which oversees the tally, or other agencies.

Republicans, in exchange, are seeking approval for some of their own ideas, including a bill narrowly passed in the House that would allow local agencies to review and appeal preliminary census figures.

Pub Date: 4/25/99

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