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Once, Only Once, and in the Right Place: Residence Rules in the Decennial Census
How should the population data be used? To apportion Congress? To redistrict Congress? To allocate federal funds? To provide a count of overseas Americans only for general informational purposes? The answers to these questions have significant implications for the level of precision needed for the data and ultimately, the enumeration methodology.
How can the Bureau verify U.S. citizenship? Administrative records such as passports and Social Security data have limitations. For example, Americans can reside in Mexico and Canada without a passport and many Americans overseas do not have Social Security numbers, especially dependents.
How can the Bureau ensure a complete count without a master address list? The foundation of the stateside decennial census is a master address list. Because the list is essentially the universe of all known living quarters in the United States, the Bureau uses it to deliver questionnaires, follow up with nonrespondents, determine vacancies, and determine individuals the Bureau may have missed or counted more than once. The Bureau lacks a complete and accurate address list of overseas Americans. Consequently, these operations would be impossible and the quality of the data would suffer as a result.
Can administrative records be used to help locate and count overseas Americans? Administrative records such as passport and visa files, voter registration forms, as well as records held by private companies and organizations have the potential to help the Bureau enumerate Americans abroad. However, the accuracy of these records, the Bureau’s ability to access them, confidentiality issues, and the possibility of duplication all remain open questions.
Do certain countries have requirements that could restrict the Bureau’sability to conduct a count? According to the Bureau, in planning the overseas test, the Bureau was informed that French privacy laws prohibit asking about race and ethnicity, two questions that are included on the U.S. census questionnaire. Although the Bureau worked with French officials to address this problem, the extent to which the Bureau will encounter restrictions in other countries, or whether other countries will cooperate with the Bureau at all, is unknown.
Still, the issue of counting all Americans overseas has been contentious in the past two decennial censuses, and the directions of modern business—and the degree to which advances in transportation and technology continue to make the world seem a smaller place—suggest that the issue will endure. Students continue to take advantage of opportunities to study abroad; jobs in foreign countries remain attractive possibilities, and the nature of modern