Utah Defends Missionary Position


Conservative leaders in Utah do not want to follow the rules of Florida math--that is, the precept that the first count is the best one, no matter how incomplete. The state of Utah, led by its Republican governor and five congressmen, has filed suit in federal court demanding a recount of Census 2000 numbers. The problem: Utah came up just short of having enough people to win a new congressional seat. By an Al Gore-style margin of 856 people, Utah lost out to North Carolina.


Utah officials want the Census Bureau's count to include the state's 14,000 Mormon missionaries living abroad. Or if missionaries aren't counted, they argue, military and civil service personnel stationed overseas should not be tallied. (North Carolina's 18,360 troops and diplomats stationed abroad trounced the Beehive's State's 3,545).


Counting people, it turns out, is as politically charged as counting votes. Arguing that the Constitution requires an "actual enumeration," conservatives have long battled census officials' attempts to use "sampling methods" in achieving a national head count. The stakes are high because census figures are used not just to apportion the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives but to allocate federal funds to states and municipalities. Because the decennial census tends to undercount populations in Democratic areas, some on the right fear that statistical sampling will drive those numbers up.


And the Census Bureau has been inconsistent about counting U.S. citizens living overseas. Only the 1970, 1990, and 2000 surveys "officially" included military and federal employees stationed abroad and their dependents. Utah officials maintain that making distinctions between categories of Americans who live outside the country's borders is unfair. "Missionaries are unique in some respects," Utah Governor Mike Leavitt told The Salt Lake Tribune, but in their need for political representation, "they are identical to those serving in the military or civil service overseas."


Of course, it's easier to count federal employees. What kind of sampling techniques might be necessary to count missionaries and others temporarily out of the country? How accurate will those counts be? The Census Bureau maintains that it lacks the resources to count all private citizens abroad. As well, Census Director Kenneth Prewitt points out that "if you count Utah's missionaries, you must count the missionaries belonging to every other state." Then there are college students and business people stationed abroad. And how do you tell a permanent emigrant from a U.S. resident on hiatus?

Finally, there is the high conservative principle against altering rules at the end of the count. "If the courts find that Utah's missionaries should be included in the 2000 census tally, every other state would sue us," contends Prewitt. "This is a fair criticism of the census, one which could be considered for the 2010 survey, but you can't change the rules after the game."


If the case ever reaches the Supreme Court, oddsmakers might want to check whether Justice Antonin Scalia has closer ties to Utah than he does to North Carolina.

You need to be logged in to comment.
(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)

Connect
, after login or registration your account will be connected.
Advertisement