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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Who Counts - Apparently Not Everyone!

As a recent immigrant to this country, Chapter 2 is by far the most interesting to me. This was not only a great commentary on the history and politicization of the census, but for me, who did not go through high school here, I did not get my dose of US constitutional history. So, I not only learnt about the census but how it interplayed with Bill of Rights and the Constitution. It was fascinating! But the political nature of such a mundane thing such as the census should be shocking, right? Well, actually, I wasn’t. The reason I was not, was because I had something to compare to, and that was re-districting conducted everywhere but nowhere as prominent as in Texas. My understanding of re-districting helped me understand the political motivations behind census taking. Of course, the most obvious thing I knew already was the census played a huge role in the number of members of the house of representatives, and consequently the number of electoral college votes per state, which is perhaps the most “screwed” up system of elections when compared to much of the democratic world.

Chapters 8 and 9 were an in-depth read into the history of how race played a role in the census. There are details there that are shocking, akin to the way lynching is still not a law in some southern states! (In fact, there is not federal law on this, but the federal justice system leaves it up to the states). I was surprised to – (well, maybe I shouldn’t be… ) note that non-whites that were not black were also prohibited citizenship… Chapter 8 and 9 also have several “case-study” type insights into questionnaire methodology and sampling. We learnt in our research methods class how sequence of questions are important, so that they are not leading to a particular answer, and chapter 9 speaks to why sampling might not be an accepted form of surveying or census taking. It was also very interesting to read the data on Milwaukee and how sampling could add or subtract a significant number to the population.

The book alludes to several important issues. One, the basis of democratic power depends on who holds the majority – even by one vote, or as we (even if sadly) noted, between 300-3000 votes that “swayed” the 2000 election into Bush’s favor, but not without the intervention of the courts. Given the nature of beast, it is logical that even something so straightforward (hah!) as counting is political. The book leaves me saddened to find out the depths of manipulation the census has undergone in order to push a particular political stance or to get a particular party in power. It makes you wonder if we are indeed living in a democratic society.

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