Justice Department to increase legal staff amid surge in restrictive voting laws

Teachers come under pressure as politicians, parents battle over ‘critical race theory’

Expert: Census Bureau’s actions to protect individual privacy could have big impact on redistricting

Research suggests that technology moves will cause NC communities that are more integrated and diverse to be undercounted

In a nod to privacy concerns, technology experts at the U.S. Census Bureau are using newly developed algorithms to inject statistical “noise” into this year’s census that will make it harder to identify individuals.

Independent researchers, however, are worried that the privacy protection mechanism — known as “differential privacy” — may cause significant overcounts and undercounts for purposes of legislative redistricting.

Researchers voiced their concerns after the Census Bureau published the last testing data in late April ahead of the redistricting data release. Last week in an apparent response to those concerns, Census Bureau announced that it will reduce but not eliminate such noise in the data.

However, the data compiled with the new method won’t be released until September — after the expected date the information was to be used for redistricting.

Concerns over inaccuracy of data to be used in redistricting

Harvard researchers analyzed the April data for four states. In North Carolina, researchers found more racially diverse precincts lose 20 to 30 people on average, while less diverse precincts gain 10 to 15.

The lead author of the Harvard study, Christopher Kenny, a doctoral candidate at the Department of Government told Policy Watch that the difference between the population counts in North Carolina precincts in the proposal compared with the actual 2010 census count is “very stark.”

The imbalanced skew of population counts for communities with different racial compositions means that some voters’ power will be diluted while others will be amplified.

“Minority voters in those districts that have large mixed minority precincts and areas will have a less powerful vote because there will be more people voting than in the other areas,” Kenny explained.

There are more than 2,600 precincts in North Carolina. Each averages over 3,900 residents, based on the census count for congressional apportionment in April, which didn’t use the privacy protection algorithms.

The 2010 census used a different mechanism for privacy protection. At the time, population in a census block — the smallest geographic unit of the census tally — was not altered. The differential privacy proposal for the 2020 census though, sometimes changes the total counts of population in each census block.

The impact of this deviation, the analysis suggests, is that map drawers may not be able to reconfigure districts that reflect the true populations, as mandated by the “One Person, One Vote” principle affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1960s.

In addition, the privacy protection mechanism will result in white people being better counted than other groups that aren’t as large, because it counts the largest racial and ethnic groups more accurately, Kenny said.

“Once they release the 2020 data, they’re not going to release other accounts for you to compare it to,” Kenny explained  — noting that researchers can examine the accuracy of the algorithms only in September using the 2010 census.

Meanwhile, in Alabama a lawsuit is challenging the release of the 2020 census in the format in which differential privacy is applied.

Census Bureau takes steps to address concerns

The Census Bureau said in a Wednesday press release that the final redistricting data products will reduce the statistical noise from the April testing data, after accounting for feedback from groups like Kenny’s team. However, the agency said the population count accuracy won’t increase.

The release also says census experts are addressing concerns about the racial bias and the geographic bias that gives smaller, low-turnout and mixed-party geographies a disadvantage. Yet the results can only be examined after the September quality measurement data release.

“The decisions strike the best balance between the need to release detailed, usable statistics from the 2020 Census with our statutory responsibility to protect the privacy of individuals’ data,” said Ron Jarmin, acting director of the U.S. Census Bureau in the press release. “They were made after many years of research and candid feedback from data users and outside experts – whom we thank for their invaluable input.”

Kenny said he remains skeptical that the Census experts can resolve all the concerns with the short time it has to prepare for the newer data release. “I am hopeful that their changes will help fix some problems, but I can’t be confident that it will fix the scale of the problems that many users identified,” Kenny said in an email Friday. “It remains possible that their fixes to these few problems have introduced new errors on other dimensions.” He explained that if researchers identify these problems in September, many states will have already drawn their maps based on the problematic counts.

Kenny’s team issued a statement of its own on Wednesday in response to the Census Bureau announcement asking for greater transparency. “Although scholarly communities have not fully resolved the issue of incorporating additional noise into redistricting simulation analysis, the availability of such information should facilitate future methodological development,” the statement read. “In particular, it is of interest to examine whether or not the additional noise makes it more difficult to detect partisan and racial gerrymandering.”


NC writer David Zucchino wins the Pulitzer Prize for his book, “Wilmington’s Lie” — see him describe it here

The 105th class of Pulitzer Prize winners in Journalism, Books, Drama and Music were announced Friday and all caring and thinking North Carolinians will be delighted to know that Triangle-based writer David Zucchino was awarded the Pulitzer in the category of “General Nonfiction” for his book: Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy

The book is a “must read” for anyone who wants to better understand the stunning moral depravity of the late-19th Century racism that plagued our state and much of the American South.

And for those who may have missed it last month, you can access an easy-to-digest preview of the book by checking out the video from my May online conversation with the author.

The Zoom recording of the entire hour long conversation, can be viewed by clicking here. Enjoy.

Weekend Humor from Celia Rivenbark: Hey Alabama! These kindergartners have a few questions for y’all

While there is nothing, I repeat, nothing, funny about a 19-year-old with a gun (later revealed to be unloaded) hijacking a school bus full of kindergartners so he could escape his military base, it was hard for savvy parents and teachers to hear the story about how the kids foiled the hijacker by peppering him with questions and not think: “Hold my juice box…”

“Are you going to hurt us?” “Are you going to hurt the bus driver?” “Why are you on our bus?” The fool lasted less than 6 minutes before telling the driver and kids to, for the love of all that’s holy, get off the bus. He then drove himself a little farther into rural Richmond County, S.C., where he had a moment’s peace before being efficiently apprehended. The bus driver credited the kids’ persistent questioning with saving the day and called the tots his “personal heroes.”

Meanwhile, kindergarten teachers snorted at the hijacker. “Punk. He’d burst into tears if he had to make ‘em form a lunch line every day.”

Anyone who has been around kindergartners for more than a minute knows the questions are pretty much unending, usually  tangential and often maddening.

“Can I get some water?” Also, a follow-up: “Why does Jaden act like a BUTT?” The school bus driver told “Good Morning America” they had only gone a few miles when the gunman started to crack under the barrage of earnest, nonstop questioning.

With multiple charges including 19 counts of kidnapping, the gunman will most likely be in jail for a very long time. “How long?” “What do you do in jail when you are tooken away?” “Do you think his mommie is mad at him?” “Are there really strings in string cheese?”

Of course, it’s not always questions. Just as often, it’s a random declaration. “If I get a girlfriend, I want her to be named Tiffany. Or maybe just Tiff. I don’t even know becuz why.”

Crazily enough, that wasn’t the only major public school news coming out of my beloved South this month. The Governor of Alabama last week lifted the legislature’s ban on teaching yoga in P.E. classes. Yes. That yoga. The one with stretching and poses named after children and dogs.

If you’re wondering “Do what?” right about now, you’re not alone. In a state where it’s just fine, if not preferable, for teachers to carry concealed weapons, it was against the law to teach yoga, considered since 1993 in ‘Bama to be a gateway drug to, you guessed it, Hinduism. Apparently some upright uptights fretted such exposure might siphon off too much Jesus. Someone’s faith is mighty fragile, it would seem.

Why does my head hurt now? How can there be that much stupid in one place? Why does the Alabama legislature act like a BUTT?

Perhaps the funniest part is while yoga classes will be taught again, starting next fall, no students are allowed to utter traditional yoga phrases, apparently not even in the funny way as in “I reckon Namaste right here while y’all go to the dog fight.”

Other rules include “no Sanskrit names for poses” and “the sound of Om is not allowed.”

I’ve been to a few yoga classes in my day, and I’ve never heard anyone call child’s pose by its proper Sanskrit name. Same with happy baby and corpse pose (the end-of-class pose where grown women lie down and try to remember what they need from the grocery store on the way home).

Presumably “Om” in Alabama, at least, will be replaced by “Daaayum” or simply “Roll Tide.”

In a perfect world, those sweet kindergartners would head on over to the Alabama State House with a few thousand questions. That would be the perfect punishment for those loons.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Email her at [email protected]