The Census Bureau said Thursday it has discovered unspecified “anomalies” in its count of the US population that could delay the report past January 20.
If the issue delays the bureau’s data processing steps, the incoming Biden administration may be in a position to override the controversial decision by the Trump administration to exclude undocumented immigrants from key tallies such as the apportionment count for how many congressional districts states have.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments later this month over whether the Trump administration may legally do that.
“During post-collection processing, certain processing anomalies have been discovered. These types of processing anomalies have occurred in past censuses,” Census Director Steve Dillingham said in a statement.
He said the bureau would “resolve this as expeditiously as possible.”
But he and other Census officials did not explain the nature of the problem. Officials did anticipate some issues, like two different responses for a single household, and had plans to address those.
They also declined to say whether it would delay the delivery of a set of figures used to divide up seats in Congress between the states.
That count was on track to be finished by “the first or second week of January,” Al Fontenot, the career official leading the 2020 census, said in late October.
But meeting that target “assumes that a reasonably smooth series of processing events will occur,” Fontenot said. “If they are not reasonably smooth, that will require us to take additional time.”
Inauguration Day is January 20.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the data processing period was already highly compressed from a scheduled five months to just three. Fontenot told a federal court in September that the process could not be further shortened “without significant risk” of producing inaccurate numbers.
He explained that “post data collection processing is a particularly complex operation, and the steps of the operation must generally be performed consecutively.”
“In this sense, the post data collection activities are like building a house – one cannot apply dry wall before erecting the walls, any more than one could lay floor tile before the floor is constructed. There is an order of steps that must be maintained,” Fontenot said.
Talking Points Memo earlier reported the delay.