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Trump’s Census Plan In Peril As Bureau Expects February Release Of Count Results

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Photo by Andrew Harrer Bloomberg via Getty Images

A demonstrator hands out a sign about the 2020 census outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., in 2019. The Census Bureau is projecting the first set of census numbers won't be ready until February, Trump administration attorneys told a federal judge on Monday.

President Trump's bid to alter a key set of census numbers has hit another snag with the Census Bureau uncovering even more irregularities with the 2020 head count and the expected release of numbers delayed again.

As of Dec. 29, the bureau's projected date for putting out new state population counts was Feb. 9 — close to three weeks after the end of Trump's term — but newly discovered anomalies may even further delay the release, Justice Department attorneys John Coghlan and Diane Kelleher told U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh during a court conference on Monday.

If these delays remain in place, Trump would not get control of the numbers the president wants to alter as part of an ongoing effort to exclude unauthorized immigrants from a count that, according to the Constitution, must include the "whole number of persons in each state."

The numbers are used to determine each state's share of votes in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College for the next decade. Last week, the commerce secretary, who oversees the bureau, missed the year-end legal deadline for reporting the population counts to the president, who is required to deliver the counts along with each state's new number of House seats to Congress for certification.

Speaking during a virtual conference for a National Urban League-led lawsuit over the administration's last-minute changes to the census schedule, Coghlan emphasized that the exact release date remains a "moving target" as the bureau keeps working on resolving the irregularities in the census records.

Coghlan did not provide any details about the newly found anomalies, and the Census Bureau's public information office did not immediately respond to NPR's inquiries.

Still, Monday's revelation further tightens the window for Trump to try to make an unprecedented change in who is counted in a process that helps set the balance of power in Congress and the Electoral College long after Trump's term ends.

The bureau usually takes about five months after the end of counting to review the results of each once-a-decade census to make sure no resident is counted more than once or in the wrong place. But after ending counting early in October, the Trump administration forced the bureau to cut short the time for running quality checks to try to get the first set of results out before Inauguration Day.

In November, the bureau's director, Steven Dillingham, announced that the agency had discovered "processing anomalies" that "have occurred in past censuses." Records collected about college students, many of whom were displaced from dormitories around Census Day because of the pandemic, have been particularly troublesome for the bureau in recent months.

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