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Sara Swann

For Latino officials, census concerns go beyond citizenship question

The possible inclusion of a citizenship question in the 2020 census has more people talking about the decennial count than usual. But this controversial debate isn't the only issue facing the Census Bureau.

Even though the census is less than a year away, the agency has only conducted one round of tests, in Rhode Island, which experts say is hardly enough preparation. And for the first time, the bureau will offer the option to fill out the census online, but some elected officials are concerned about gaps in digital literacy and accessibility. At the core of all these census challenges is a lack of adequate funding from the federal government.

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund delved into all of these concerns and more through its National Latino Commission on Census 2020. The group, a collection of state and municipal officials, presented its research and findings on how best to address these challenges at the National Press Club on Wednesday.

The commission made several policy recommendations to Congress, the Census Bureau, the White House and the Commerce Department, including the removal of the citizenship question and approval of the $8.5 million needed to fully fund the 2020 count.


If the citizenship question remains, NALEO and many other groups fear some residents, particularly in the Latino community, will be discouraged from participating, leading to a massive population undercount and misappropriation of funds.

"Barring swift intervention, data from the 2020 Census will be inaccurate and incomplete causing national damage," the report states.

Overall, the report says the agency needs to dedicate more resources to outreach and communication, particularly in hard-to-count communities. The commission suggested the Census Bureau partner with community organizations to help share information.

With the agency looking toward a more digital future, the commission underscored the importance of planning for communities with poor Internet access or knowledge. Assistance for those who choose to participate online should be available, the report states. The Census Bureau should also reassure U.S. residents that their private information will be secure, if they opt to fill it out online, the commissioners said.

While the report made several suggestions, the commission did recognize the Census Bureau's difficulty allocating resources due to a lack of funding from the federal government.

James Christy, a representative from the Census Bureau who attended the briefing, reassured the commission and others in attendance that his agency was working hard to ensure a fair and accurate count in 2020. He also noted the Census Bureau's efforts to offer the questionnaire in more languages than in past years.

But Arturo Vargas, CEO of the NALEO Education Fund, responded that while he appreciates these efforts, the census still cannot accommodate the diversity of languages spoken in the United States. For instance, the only Native American language currently offered is Navajo. The online version and the questionnaire assistance documentation will be offered in 12 non-English languages. This leaves out many communities, Vargas said, although other forms of assistance will be available in nearly 60 languages.

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Swing states build 2020 hacking protections: Will they hold?

With the presidency on the ballot in less than a year, fears of another attempt by Russia or other foreign powers to interfere in the election seem to grow with each passing day.

But in the battlegrounds where the outcome will be decided — the 13 states almost certain to be most hotly contested by both parties — election security has been tightening and the opportunities for a successful hacking of American democracy are being greatly reduced, a review of the procedures and equipment on course to be used in each state in November 2020 makes clear.

"There's been a huge amount of progress since 2016," says Elaine Kamarck, an election security expert at the Brookings Institution. James Clapper, a former director of national intelligence, says his assessment of the fight against election interference results in feeling "confident that a lot has been done to make it better."

In fact, many who work on the issue now cite the public's perception that our election systems are vulnerable as a problem at least as great as the actual threat.

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The 13 states where election security matters most

Along with the candidates and the issues, the 2020 presidential election is also going to be about the voting process itself.

Russian efforts to hack into the voting systems of 2016 have boosted election security to a critical concern this time, prompting states to spend tens of millions buying new equipment, hiring cybersecurity wizards and installing software that warns of intrusions — among numerous other steps. More purchases of hardware, software and expertise are coming in the months ahead.

Whether enough money gets spent, and wisely, won't be known for sure until Nov. 3, 2020 — when the system will be subject to the one test that really matters. And whether the country decides the presidential election result is trustworthy will likely come down to how reliably things work in the relatively small number of states both nominees are contesting.

[Swing states build 2020 hacking protections: Will they hold?]

With 11 months to go, The Fulcrum reviewed information from state elections officials, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Election Assistance Commission and news reports to get a sense of the election security landscape. Here's the state of play in the 13 states likeliest to be presidential battlegrounds.

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"Money in our political system has completely eroded the promise of a functioning and just democracy," argues Wambui Gatheru.

For the young, getting big money out of politics is the cause of our time

Gatheru is the outreach manager at American Promise, which advocates for amending the Constitution to permit laws that regulate the raising and spending of campaign funds. She graduated two years ago from the University of Connecticut.

When young Americans come together, we can make a big impact. That's what we've seen throughout history. Alexander Hamilton and Betsy Ross were in their early 20s during the American Revolution. Frederick Douglass was 23 years old when he took the stage at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Alice Paul through her 20s led the fight for the 19th Amendment and women's voting rights.

And that's what we're seeing today in youth-led climate movements around the globe and the movement to end mass shootings here in the United States. But one issue that doesn't get as much attention sits at the root of our modern problems: big money in politics.

Money in our political system has completely eroded the promise of a functioning and just democracy. Due to a series of Supreme Court cases, corporations have the same rights as humans, special interests control Capitol Hill and democracy only works for those who can afford it. This is the dystopia my generation has inherited.

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Howard Dean and Barack Obama pioneered the drive for small-dollar contributors. Now, such donations have become an important measuring stick and may be contributing to increased polarization.

Small-dollar gifts hardly a cure-all for money’s smear on politics, one professor argues

The explosion of small-donor political contributions is often celebrated and extolled as one of the few positive developments amid all the problems facing the democracy reform movement.

Not so fast, argues New York University law school professor Richard Pildes. In a new essay published in the Yale Law Journal Forum, he argues the proliferation of modest contributions to candidates may be contributing to more political polarization and, at least, requires more careful examination.

Pildes also says the proposals to promote more small-donor giving that are part of the House Democrats' comprehensive political process overhaul, known as HR 1, could have unintended negative consequences.

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