Last August, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a report on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Prepared by some of the nation’s leading statisticians, including two former U.S. Census Bureau directors, the report concluded that the decision was “inconsistent with” what the Bureau is supposed to be doing.

Don Dillman.Continuing with the 2020 census as planned “would be like creating a population registry without asking everyone if it was okay,” said Don Dillman, a member of the National Academies committee, regents professor of sociology, deputy director for research and development in the Social and Economic Sciences Research Center at Washington State University, and a founder of one of the first university-based telephone survey research centers. The impact of doing so “worries me a lot,” he added.

As the committee reviewed many of the materials that recent lawsuits have turned up, Dillman “really started wondering if the citizen question was put there to identify people.” Not knowing what would be done with information gathered from answers to the question and administrative sources, as well as being unsure about the real motivation behind adding the question, also made him anxious about the scope of its impact. “If it’s really a registry,” Dillman said, “I don’t know where it would start — and where it would end.”

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