Lack Of Internet Access Threatens 2020 Census Success And The Future Latino Voting Power

from the digital-divide-matters dept

American elections are threatened by more than just Russian hacking; the lack of internet access for the growing Latino population undermines our democracy thanks to a shift to online counting for the 2020 census.

Russian agents have and can again hack algorithms and voting systems — but it matters little in the grand scheme of things if Latinos (the largest minority group in the U.S.) are blocked from participating in the election process before they even get to the voting booth. Without home internet access, the online 2020 census will be another modern civic duty millions of American Latinos won’t have the luxury of participating in, and Congress needs to do something about it.

In 2015, 44 percent of Latinos did not have a broadband connection at home. Connecting to the internet is essential to participate in the 21st century economy. Without internet access, Latinos are shut out from many government benefits and responsibilities — including the 2020 census. With so many Latinos on the wrong side of the digital divide, the census moving online could cause a domino effect for policies that rely heavily on census data — like drawing voting districts.

Moving the 2020 census online will make it harder to count Latinos, who have been undercounted in the U.S. census for decades. Particularly, the Census Bureau reports that 1.5 percent of the Latino population was undercounted in 2010. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights cites barriers such as language, poverty, education, and immigrant status as continuing causes to the undercount of Latinos.

To be sure, those who cannot self-report online will have a paper option similar to the paper options of past censuses. However, the Census Bureau will no longer be conducting door-to-door surveying en mass, and will rely heavily on online marketing. The paper option alone will not be an adequate replacement for those without broadband so long as the Bureau also eliminates its door to door survey — a necessary component to ensure more accurate counts.

It is also true that the Bureau plans to make the 2020 census form available on mobile devices. However, this is not an equivalent option for those who are smartphone reliant. Not to mention smartphone data plans can be extremely limiting and are often the first thing to go in a time of financial hardship. At least 23 percent of smartphone owners report cancelling or suspending their service because of financial restraint.

The online shift in the 2020 census is particularly troubling for a population with a history of census problems. Although there was a one-time “Mexican” option on the 1930 census, the U.S. didn’t make its first real attempt to measure the Latino population until the 1970 census. It wasn’t until the 2000 census that the U.S. even started using the term “Latino.” Before this, mix-ups or exclusive terminology made tracing data from decade to decade problematic.

To worsen matters, the Census Bureau is making this drastic change based on inaccurate, or missing, data on exactly who has internet access — and who remains unconnected. A lack of Congressional funds and problematic methodologies have slowed processes and produced over-exaggerated maps. Where connection is available, it’s worthless if a household doesn’t have a computer or (in the very least) a mobile device to utilize that connection. Even more troublesome is when families can’t afford to connect; a growing familiarity as cost remains the number one barrier to broadband adoption.

With 21.9 percent of the Latino population in the U.S. living in poverty, more needs to be done to address the digital divide — both where broadband is already deployed and where it isn’t yet. Closing the digital divide starts with preserving and expanding programs like Lifeline (an FCC program that provides a subsidy for low-income families to access communications services), to expanding municipal broadband, and to encouraging competition in existing broadband markets — all things Trump’s FCC is actively working to gut.

Despite showing up to the voting booth for President Obama in 2008, Latinos face trouble with voting. If undercounted, Latino voting power will be diminished even more by efforts to gerrymander congressional districts or concentrate Latinos into one or two small districts. Solving these voting rights issues is not likely before the 2020 census, but an undercount of the Latino population due to the digital divide certainly will worsen matters.

As the 2020 census goes online for the first time, the digital divide is a threat to the future voting power of Latinos and other unconnected communities, including disconnected urban areas as well as rural America. One thing is for sure, we will continue to see an undercount and underestimation in political districting if large swaths of Americans can’t effectively participate in the new census. The digital divide’s impact on the 2020 census poses a significant problem that Congress should be invested in solving now instead of when it’s too late.

Daiquiri Ryan is Policy Counsel for the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC)

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Lack Of Internet Access Threatens 2020 Census Success And The Future Latino Voting Power”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
60 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

One branch of government is claiming that the Internet is necessary …
Other government officials say quite the opposite wrt whether the Internet Service Providers should be considered common carrier utilities.

From the PDF:
the 2020 Census will offer the opportunity and encourage people to respond via the Internet and will encourage, but not require, people to enter a unique Census identification with their response.

I’m surprised they do not want you to download their app.

Can I just print the form and mail it in via snail mail? I am too busy to read thru the several hundred pages describing their … whatever they call it. Reminds me of the Office Space white board in the conf rm – the contents were entitled "Planning to Plan"

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

To be fair, the part of the government claiming the internet isn’t needed is a regulatory capture situation. When the official in charge is destined to prison over his blatant disregard for the public and clear ties to Verizon, you can ignore all of the short term insanity as part of his illegal acts.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

When the official in charge is destined to prison over his blatant disregard for the public and clear ties to Verizon

Those things aren’t actually illegal.

I keep seeing people talk about how Pai’s going to wind up in prison. For what? Disregard for the public and clear ties to Verizon are not illegal.

It wouldn’t surprise me if he has broken some laws, but I haven’t seen any real evidence of that. He’s corrupt, obviously, but as far as I’ve seen, his corruption is entirely of the legal variety.

Anonymous Coward says:

Latinos avoid the census

You can’t record the people who actively avoid being recorded. If they are here illegally, they will not trust any government associated group with their status no matter what they are promised. You can’t assume people are being missed if they are actively avoiding the surveys due to their fears of being found out. There is and never will be a method of surveying everyone if some of those people do not want to be recorded.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Latinos avoid the census

Does participation in the Census require legal residence?

"The Census Bureau collects and publishes survey data on the characteristics of the foreign born resident in the United States, such as country of birth, year of entry, citizenship status, and the size of the population.

The Census Bureau does not collect data on the legal status of the foreign born."

Apparently not, so what does legal residence have to do with anything with regard to the Census? Now I will grant you that some illegal residents might see interacting with the government to be some sort of dangerous and therefore not want to participate because they do not know, understand, or trust the above statement. But getting counted will change some things, regardless of your attitude.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Latinos avoid the census

Apparently not, so what does legal residence have to do with anything with regard to the Census? Now I will grant you that some illegal residents might see interacting with the government to be some sort of dangerous and therefore not want to participate because they do not know, understand, or trust the above statement.

And if you look at the history of US Census abuse—and I don’t mean 50 or 100 years ago, I mean 10-20—it would be entirely reasonable for certain groups (even members who immigrated legally) to be distrustful.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Latinos avoid the census

"Because a percent of the latino population is here illegally. "

As pointed out by a prior reply to your post ….
there are many in the US illegally from many different countries.
In fact, the largest group of illegals by country is not Mexico.

"You can ignore reality and substitute it for whatever you like, but it won’t change anything in the end."

Yes, this is true – but I wonder why you do not understand that what you typed also applies to yourself.

carlb (profile) says:

Re: Re: illegal immigration?

We’ve run the US census again, but this time excluding all of the illegal immigrants.

The total lawful population of the US is 2,423,531 including 281069 Cherokee, 269202 Navajo, 108272 Sioux and 105907 Chippewa but excluding all of the illegal immigrants and their descendants, who will be herded back onto the Mayflower and shipped back to wherever they came from.

Hope that helps. 🙂

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Latinos avoid the census

You can’t record the people who actively avoid being recorded.

This is true. And, moreover, the Trump Administration seems to be going to some considerable effort to encourage Latinos to actively avoid being recorded.

But this article is more about the people who aren’t actively avoiding being recorded. It’s about people who aren’t filling out the census form simply because they don’t have easy access to it.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: So... amend the constitution?

Doesn’t it depend upon why one doesn’t have Internet access? No ISP in the area is one complaint. High prices due to a lack of competition is another complaint. There are also issues with ISP’s claiming there is access in a particular area when there actually isn’t. There is also the concept that some people find a way to conduct their lives without the Internet, even if some opportunities are not available in the brick and mortar world.

In your Constitutional Amendment that will make Internet access a human right, which of these barriers to access do you intend to ameliorate, and how?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So... amend the constitution?

That is a horrible idea.
1) many already ignore the constitution
2) there does not seem to be any repercussions resulting from #1
3) the right to equal opportunity is already present in the constitution
4) changing the constitution is no small matter
5) many who want to chg the constitution have ulterior motives

and last but not least … a change to the constitution is not necessary in order to implement the end result you seek, assuming you have no ulterior motives.

Personanongrata says:

Stop Flogging this Horse is Dead

American elections are threatened by more than just Russian hacking

Are American elections so fragile they are threatened by unsubstantiated claims of so-called Russian hacking?

The NYT’s link you provided to back your well flogged dead horse Russian hacking claim does not provide any evidence whatsoever but enumerable evidence-free allegations under the guise of news paper reports.

https://www.nytimes.com/news-event/russian-election-hacking

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Russian Hacking

Stephen, you make many an insightful comment around here. On this topic I side with William Binney, ex Technical Director of the NSA. His point is purely that nobody "Hacked" the DNC emails. They were a leak. This undermines the entire narrative though. There’s plenty an interview out there on this topic.

Check it out.

Arthur Moore (profile) says:

Florida won't be happy

While it’s important to talk about Latinos, there’s another major segment that won’t respond well if they have to do something online, or even just print something from the internet. That’s the older generation.

My grandmother doesn’t own a computer, and I suspect that is the case for many of her neighbors as well. Areas with higher retirement age populations would be under represented by a shift to digital. Which should have some interesting consequences.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Florida won't be happy

If the older generation don’t participate in the census due to having no internet access then they won’t be provided services specific to their needs in the future. So they die earlier from a lack of services & save the government money in looking after them. That’s a big win for the bean counters.

Censusguy says:

Non argument

I was a Census Taker. I specialized in collecting info from addresses that did not respond to Census mailings. 99 percent intentionally did not respond. 100 percent had access to Internet. Over 75 percent were not white. I had 90 percent success in getting the non responders to answer something. .. often obviously (to me) lying. Many times I completed by observation (ie. Address is day care, so I flag it as such) as Doctor House says "everybody lies’ Internet is not a right in any event.

Narcissus (profile) says:

Foreigner with raised eyebrow here

For a country that praises itself for being the bestest, fairest, shiniest and openest democracy, you sure seem to have a lot of issues making elections fair.

Looking from here it sounds like a good idea if you dropped districts to prevent gerrymandering and dropped the electoral college. Generally speaking that would give one person one vote and it would be also be easier to offer third (fourth, fifth, sixth etc.) party options. Campaign finance reform is also a thing you could look into.

Obviously that is not new. However, the powers that be have obviously no interest in changing it, thus the kakocracy continues.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Foreigner with raised eyebrow here

That doesn’t change anything really. Now that you’ve got free hosting for your video… instead of having to pay for advertising to show your video to people, you have to pay for advertising to make people aware that you have a free video worth watching. The fundamental question of how you get the message out (ie. bring it to the attention of a large percentage of the electorate) changes very little with the existence of YouTube. It still takes a lot of resources for someone who doesn’t already have an audience to gather an audience, no matter how good their message.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Foreigner with raised eyebrow here

"For a country that praises itself …"

  • Just masturbation really

"you sure seem to have a lot of issues "

  • You are not incorrect there.

I’m not so sure about how good of an idea you have there, perhaps some research prior to jumping would be prudent. There are many things that need "looking into". If you fail to see change perhaps you are not looking hard enough.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Foreigner with raised eyebrow here

Looking from here it sounds like a good idea if you dropped districts

In favor of what? At-large representation?

That could work, but independent redistricting committees tend to solve that problem too. That’s how it works in Arizona. When we elect racist shitbirds here, at least you know it’s not because of gerrymandering; it’s because they fairly represent their racist shitbird constituents.

and dropped the electoral college. Generally speaking that would give one person one vote and it would be also be easier to offer third (fourth, fifth, sixth etc.) party options.

Not that much easier. As long as we’ve got first-past-the-post, we’ll have Duverger’s Law.

Of course, getting rid of the electoral college would mean repealing the Twelfth Amendment, so if we’re going to get rid of the EC we might as well get rid of FPTP while we’re at it, as long as we’re talking pure hypotheticals.

YR says:

Completely incorrect

The moronic assumption that the lack of internet connectivity for any demographic will effect the count shows how partisan this argument has become, and how the left continually attempts to confer special privileges or status based on race.

The internet didn’t even exist for the vast majority of the history of this nation – yet the Census’s occurred, and people were counted. Saying that the Census count won’t be accurate because a portion of the Latino population doesn’t have internet services at their home is as idiotic as saying that latinos can’t have bank accounts because they don’t have internet. The internet is simply a tool, like any other….you can bank via the internet, watch TV via the internet, get a college degree via the internet – and yet, like ALWAYS, you can still do every one of these things the way you we always have – in person. 30 years ago, everyone that wanted to use the bank actually went to the bank! Imagine that! And here’s what’s MORE amazing – you STILL CAN today! Wow!!!

The Census is no different. Yes – if you don’t have internet access, you can’t use Internet Self-Response service, either via the web or via mobile. Who cares? Do what people have always done, then, if you prefer/need to – get the mail, open your form, fill it out, and stick it in the mail.

And the idea that the lack of door-to-door response is somehow to blame is equally moronic. The Census Bureau is employing over 400,000 enumerators to go door to door. Also, the Census has a vast array of NRFU (non-response follow-up) activities that provide for a great deal coverage for those that have not done their required duty (by law, fyi) and filled out their Census form.

Between additional mailers, phone calls, door-to-door visits, there should be a very accurate count by the end of the 2020 Census activities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Completely incorrect

"assumption that the lack of internet connectivity for any demographic will effect the count shows how partisan this argument has become, and how the left continually attempts to "

Perhaps you have overlooked the fact that GOP types love them some gerrymandering?


"The internet didn’t even exist for the vast majority of the history of this nation – yet the Census’s occurred, and people were counted. Saying that the Census count won’t be accurate because a portion of the Latino population doesn’t have internet services at their home is as idiotic"

You did read the article did you?

Difster (profile) says:

Dear Author: Piss off!

You must really miss the Obama years. MOAR GOVERNMENT EXPANSION. "Digital Divide?" You’re still using that idiotic term? I thought that term stopped getting used 10 years ago at least.

No, be a good lad and go give your own money to the poor and downtrodden rather than demanding that the government does it by force.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...