Opinion: Utah pushes census to count Mormon missionaries


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Well, here’s a census controversy we hadn’t counted on.

Usually, when the Census Bureau gets embroiled in a political spat — and it seems to do that every 10 years — it’s usually over how to tally the homeless or undocumented immigrants.

But this controversy centers on Utah and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Officials there are in a dither because the bureau won’t count all those Mormon missionaries sent overseas. The Salt Lake Tribune recently explained what’s up:


This isn’t simply a quibble over statistics. The decennial population count is vitally important for states because a bigger population means more members of Congress and more tax money. In the most recent Census, taken in 2000, Utah fell just 857 people short of receiving the last available U.S. House seat and this discrepancy in how Americans are counted overseas made all the difference.

One less congressman for a lack of 857 residents? That’s right. And, from the Utah perspective, it gets even worse when one considers North Carolina, which claimed the 435th seat in the House in large part because of the state’s military bases. Again, the Tribune explains:

The Census included the overseas military in 1970, 1990 and 2000 because of congressional pressure. The Bureau has made previous attempts to count all Americans abroad, but that population has never been used to apportion House seats.

Utah took the Census Bureau to court about all this but got rebuffed by the Supreme Court. So now Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, joined by fellow Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, has introduced a bill that would compel the Census Bureau to allow for Americans living overseas to be counted in the decennial census.

“The Census Bureau could fix this problem right now and count Americans abroad, but they refuse to and are sitting on their hands until Congress makes them do this,” Bishop said in a statement this summer. “It seems there is no other solution other than mandating that the Census Bureau change their policy immediately.”

-- Steve Padilla

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