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Do the census right

Knowing how many people live where in the United States is more than a matter of satisfying curiosity or writing books on demographics and geography. The census conducted every decade has enormous ramifications.

How $1.5 trillion in federal funding is doled out to localities and states, including school systems, is determined in part by results of the census. How many members of the House of Representatives go to each state is a matter of population. So is membership in the Electoral College, which names the president of the United States.

Convincing Americans to participate in the census and finding those who require personal contact is difficult enough in a normal year. COVID-19 has made it the challenge of a lifetime this year.

How did Census Bureau officials react to obstacles? By giving up early.

Initially, census workers were to continue the population count until the end of this month. Several weeks ago, the bureau announced it would stop doing that a month early.

That would be incredibly irresponsible. Yet bureau officials refused to budge on the change.

They persisted even after a lawsuit was filed against them. Late last month, U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh, in San Jose, California, ordered that the bureau suspend its efforts to stop the counting early.

But census officials kept going with their retreat. Last Thursday, a clearly angry Koh ordered that the bureau send a text message to each and every one of its employees, telling them the count will continue through Oct. 31.

Good. Koh is right. Ending the count early would have risked a more severe undercount of Americans than would have resulted anyway. Even as it stands, problems resulting from the bureau’s refusal to obey Koh’s earlier order will make it difficult to keep going effectively.

In fact, Koh ought to hold the bureau responsible for failure to comply with her September order. Thumbing one’s nose at a federal judge smacks of arrogance — and the judge should make it clear such behavior will not be tolerated.

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