Undercount in 2020 Census risks political influence of US territories in the states

by May 3, 2022Elections, Federal Government0 comments

Historically, Hispanics and Indigenous people have not been properly counted by the United States census. The 2020 US Census included all US territories, however, the bureau undercounted 18.8 million Americans overall in its final tally; the majority of omissions occurred in minority groups. This undercounting could have potentially negative ramifications for the future of the US territories, particularly as it could lead to political under-representation in Congress, in the form of fewer members of Congress with ties to the territories. 

Potential miscount for Census 2020. Credit: Urban Institute
Potential miscount for Census 2020. Credit: Urban Institute

There are currently 6 non-voting members of the House of Representatives, with 5 out of 6 members representing one of the unincorporated US territories. Non-voting members are not allowed to vote on final legislation but can introduce it, and are given time on the floor and in committees to speak on issues regarding the territories. In addition to these delegates, territories can benefit from representation in the form of stateside voting members of Congress that have ties to them; this has been especially true for Puerto Rico. 

Non-voting members rely on voting congressional representatives to support them in votes regarding the territories. With the Census now showing a trend of consistently undercounting minorities, especially those of Hispanic and Indigenous households, future Congresses could see a reduced presence of members with ties to the territories. In 2022, that could begin to play out as the National Republican Campaign Committee targets the seat of Representative Darren Soto of Florida, a state in which Governor Ron DeSantis is pushing for a map that could pick up 4 more seats for his party. Should Republicans succeed, Soto, who has been actively involved in issues from Puerto Rico, would lose his seat, and the territory, one of its advocates in the US House of Representatives. 

With Puerto Rico being 98.6% Hispanic, Guam 49.3% Pacific Islander, the US Virgin Islands 76% Black, American Samoa 88.9% Native Samoan, and the Northern Mariana Islands 51.6% Asian, the Census undercount presents a particular threat to their political representation in the form of voting members of Congress.