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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended January 12, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 13Jan01

By Kent Larsen

Utah Files Lawsuit Over LDS Missionary Census Exclusion

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- The Utah Attorney General's office filed a lawsuit in US District Court Wednesday morning, alleging that the US Census Bureau discriminated against LDS missionaries in the 2000 census. According to the complaint and to Bureau statements, the Bureau excluded LDS missionaries and other US citizens living abroad in its count while including overseas Federal employees such as diplomats and military personnel. As a result of this "disparate treatment," North Carolina was apportioned an additional seat in the US Congress that would have otherwise gone to Utah.

The complaint asks US District Judge Dee Benson to issue a temporary restraining order, keeping the US Congress from certifying the count, a move that would start the process of drawing new congressional district boundaries in those states where there was a change in the number of US House seats. Once this process begins, observers believe, changing the results of the census will be nearly impossible.

Utah alleges that the Census Bureau's decisions were arbitrary. "The Census Bureau discriminated against LDS missionaries temporarily living abroad based solely on the identity of the entity that sent them abroad," says the complaint. Utah Governor Mike Leavitt adds that there is little substantive difference between missionaries and US Government personnel, "Missionaries are unique in some respects. But they are clearly an identifiable group who are serving overseas for a predetermined time. They are identical to those serving in the military or civil service overseas." The LDS Church estimates that there are some 14,000 LDS missionaries from Utah serving overseas.

Before counting overseas government employees, the Census Bureau's counts of citizens living within the US clearly gave Utah enough people for a new seat in the US Congress by a margin of nearly 14,000. But when the US Government employees, of which North Carolina has nearly 15,000 more than Utah, were included, the seat went to North Carolina by just 856 people. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff argues that the count should either include or exclude all US Citizens overseas. "This is arbitrary," said Shurtleff. "Either count all of them or none of them. Either way, we would have gained the fourth seat."

But Jay Waite, the assistant director of the decennial census, sees the issue differently. Sensitive to possible charges that the Bureau is inconsistent and inaccurate in its counts, Waite, a former Utahn, LDS Church member and returned LDS missionary, claims that it is simply too difficult to get an accurate count of non-US government personnel living overseas. He says the Census Bureau tried to count these citizens in the 1970 census, but "we found it to be a miserable failure."

Indeed, the Bureau has been inconsistent with counting citizens overseas. According to Thomas Lee, a BYU constitutional law professor retained as legal counsel for Utah on the issue, LDS missionaries were counted in previous censuses, including those in the 1920s and 1930s. More recently, the Bureau counted US government personnel in the 1970 census, bowing to public pressure to include military personnel serving in Vietnam. But the Bureau didn't include military personnel in the 1980 census, and then did again in 1990, once again bowing to outside pressure.

But Waite also observes that if the count were widened to include all US citizens living abroad, it would have to include a lot more than missionaries, "Most of the people who are working overseas for a private company would say the same thing," he said. "There's nothing wrong with counting missionaries, but we need to be fair and consistent." Given that these citizens could be citizens of every US state, the changes could ripple through the entire count, and Utah might still end up without the seat.

Waite admits that he personally made the decision to include US government employees overseas, but says that the effect on LDS or other missionaries was never considered. "You can imagine my fear and trepidation when I found out this process had cost Utah a seat . . . That's where my heart still is. Having been a missionary myself, I have some sympathy for the missionary program."

North Carolina's Attorney General, Roy Cooper, has also weighed in on the issue, saying that his state will defend the seat awarded to the state. "We'll look for every way to protect our new congressional seat," he said. "We believe the courts will uphold the Census Bureau's calculations. The rules were set before the census was taken and should not be changed at this late date." And even Utah politicians admit that the lawsuit's chances may be slim, "It's a long shot," said Utah Senator Bob Bennett, who, along with Utah's four other representatives in the national legislature, signed on to the lawsuit. "But when the final tally is less than 900, and you're talking about over 10,000 people out there, you obviously have to go after it."

Meanwhile, the clerk of the US House, Jeff Trandahl, has agreed to delay certification of the count until next Thursday, allowing the state time to make its argument for a temporary restraining order before Judge Benson as scheduled at 2 pm next Wednesday.


Utah Gains Delay in Census Suit
Salt Lake Tribune 11Jan01 T1
By Joe Baird: Salt Lake Tribune

Utah challenges census
Deseret News 10Jan01 T2
By Dennis Romboy: Deseret News staff writer
Complaint decries exclusion of missionaries from count

Utah demands a census recount
St Louis MO Post (AP) 10Jan01 T1
By Paul Foy: Associated Press Writer

Ex-Utahn defends decision by bureau that cost state seat
Deseret News 10Jan01 T2
y Elyse Hayes: Deseret News staff writer

Web extra: House holding off on 2000 Census
Deseret News 11Jan01 T1

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