Census on track for August data release after court ruling

FILE - This April 5, 2020 photo shows an envelope with a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident in Detroit.  Harvard group of researchers speaks out against the US Census Bureau's use of controversial confidentiality method on numbers used to redraw legislative and legislative constituencies, saying it does not produce data good enough for redistribution .  (AP Photo / Paul Sancya, file)

FILE – This April 5, 2020 photo shows an envelope with a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident in Detroit. Harvard group of researchers speaks out against the US Census Bureau’s use of controversial confidentiality method on numbers used to redraw legislative and legislative constituencies, saying it does not produce data good enough for redistribution . (AP Photo / Paul Sancya, file)

PA

The US Census Bureau said on Wednesday it was on schedule to provide the numbers used to redraw legislative and legislative constituencies by mid-August after federal judges dismissed a challenge that could have delayed publication even further. Datas.

The panel of three federal judges on Tuesday rejected the state of Alabama’s request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the Census Bureau from using a statistical method to keep data of individuals private in redistribution numbers. The federal court ruling in Opelika, Alabama, allows the Census Bureau, for now, to pursue its goal of releasing redistribution data by August 16.

Alabama and three Alabama politicians had sued the Census Bureau, arguing that the method known as differential confidentiality would produce inaccurate data. But judges said it was too early to make judgments since the figures had yet to be released.

“It may very well be that individual complainants will return here once the final redistribution data is actually passed on to the states,” the judges wrote. “But we cannot know whether the differential confidentiality will inflict the harm alleged by individual complainants until the bureau releases a final set of redistribution data.”

Federal judges have dismissed Alabama’s charges that the method would produce inaccurate data and was unconstitutional. The state of Alabama and politicians argued in the lawsuit that the Census Bureau violated proper decision-making rules by offering differential confidentiality, and judges allowed those counts to go from there. before.

Bureau officials had said that the release of the cutout data, already postponed from an earlier deadline of March 31 due to the pandemic, would be delayed by several months if they were required to use an alternate method to protect the disease. private life. The delay has prompted states to scramble to change redistribution timelines or consider using other data to redraw political districts.

“We take note of the court’s decision and will proceed accordingly,” the Census Bureau said in a statement.

Differential confidentiality adds intentional errors to the data to disguise the identity of a given participant in the 2020 census while providing statistically valid information. The Census Bureau says more privacy protections are needed than in recent decades, as technological innovations amplify the threat that people will be identified through their census responses, which are confidential by law.

A civil rights group has expressed concern that differential confidentiality could hamper the enforcement of voting rights and make it more difficult to create districts where racial or ethnic minorities are in the majority.

If you imagine the privacy tool as a dial with lower settings offering the most privacy and higher settings offering the most precision, the Census Bureau selected precision in the final guidelines released earlier this month. The statistical term for this dial is “epsilon” and the office opted for an epsilon of 19.61, significantly higher than where the dial was set in previous test versions about which critics have raised concerns.

In a statement provided by the state’s legal team, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said he was disappointed with the decision but would decide how to proceed after the data was released. redistribution in August. The judges’ decision did not respond to whether the redistribution data should be based on the actual count produced in the once-per-decade census and whether the “unprecedented level of error” that the Census Bureau plans to inject into the data is legal, Marshall said. .

“We believe the answers to these questions are clear: the Bureau does not have the power to manipulate the population data that states use for redistribution, and the Bureau’s decision to significantly distort the redistribution data is patently unnecessary and illegal, ”Marshall said. “These issues remain relevant in this case.”

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