One of the most hotly debated issues of the past four years has been the method to be used to count the population in Census 2000. Broadly, the debate is over whether to incorporate statistical sampling in the decennial census for the purposes of enumerating the population. Each of the previous 21 U.S. censuses has failed to count all persons. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were certain that the state population totals tallied for the first census in 1790 were wrong (Skerry 1992). To make matters worse, the census must do more than simply tally the number of people in the country; it must also report exactly where each of these people live. By any metric, this is a Herculean task. Indeed, enumerating and fixing geographically 100% of the population without some error is impossible.
In this article I outline the plan for Census 2000, define the political debate, and offer an assessment of the plan itself. I argue that deciding how to conduct the census has been, and will continue to be, an inherently political process, and that there are reasonable, scientific arguments against adjusting the census. I became interested in this issue during my tenure as an APSA Congressional Fellow, when I staffed the Subcommittee on the Census in the House of Representatives. Before I began my fellowship on Capitol Hill, I was suspicious of the argument against adjusting the census statistically. How could anyone possibly be against adjusting the census with statistical methods?