On Tuesday, the U.S. Census Bureau posted a statement to its website that said, “As of today, well over 99.9 percent of housing units have been accounted for in the 2020 Census. Self-response and field data collection operations for the 2020 Census will conclude on October 15, 2020.”

The statement came on the heels of a decision earlier that day by the U.S. Supreme Court granting a request by the Trump administration to suspend a San Jose-based lower court injunction that prevented the bureau from ending its field work before Oct. 31.

The ruling permitted the bureau to stop the count more than two weeks before the existing deadline.

The reference to the 99.9 percent rate apparently refers to the metric that the bureau has been using to calculate the “enumeration rate,” that is, the percentage of housing units that have been enumerated or completed.

Work with respect to a housing unit is considered completed when the unit has been identified as vacant or occupied and, if occupied, information about the household determined, according to a declaration filed with the lower court on Oct. 8, by Albert Fontenot Jr., associate director for Decennial Census Programs.

“If a housing unit is determined to be occupied but no information has been obtained, then it is not considered ‘completed,'” Fontenot said.

According to the bureau, the enumeration rate for the 2010 census was 99.6 percent and that of the 2000 census was 99.45 percent.

Despite the reported enumeration rate for the 2020 census, questions continue to be raised about whether the bureau has taken administrative actions that would lead to an undercount of certain communities.

Concerns of an undercount

Since the lower court’s decision on Sept. 24, a steady stream of emails — the court’s docket reflects more than 40 — have been sent to the lower court identifying actions by the bureau that individual census workers believe are degrading the quality of the census.

Chase Springer, who identified himself as an enumerator in Philadelphia, wrote in an email to the court on Tuesday, “I fear that the director of the census is still trying everything in his power to interfere in an accurate count, especially in neighborhoods of color.”

Springer went on to say that he was no longer being assigned cases because there was insufficient work, though he knew of at least 30 open cases in his neighborhood.

In an email sent a day before the Supreme Court ruling, Hari Naidu said that she is an enumerator working in Sunnyvale and that she was “requested by my census field supervisor to turn in my equipment because (field) operations have been ended.”

The bureau has defended its actions and, at the direction of the court, has responded to the critical emails, generally rebutting their comments.

Fontenot stated in his Oct. 8 declaration that “aside from the fact that field data collection was delayed by COVID-19, the Census Bureau has no indication at this point that the data it has collected in the (field) operation is of inferior quality to prior censuses.”

It is not yet apparent if or to what extent questions about the quality and scope of the bureau’s data collection activities will be heard in the lower court after the Supreme Court ruling.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, the San Jose-based judge who has presided over the litigation, entered an order on Tuesday directing that “By Friday, October 23, 2020, the parties shall each file a statement identifying the implications of the United States Supreme Court’s stay.”

Koh scheduled a case management conference on Oct. 27 to further consider the matter.

Joe Dworetzky is a second career journalist. He practiced law in Philadelphia for more than 35 years, representing private and governmental clients in commercial litigation and insolvency proceedings. Joe served as City Solicitor for the City of Philadelphia under Mayor Ed Rendell and from 2009 to 2013 was one of five members of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission with responsibility for managing the city’s 250 public schools. He moved to San Francisco in 2011 and began writing fiction and pursuing a lifelong interest in editorial cartooning. Joe earned a Master’s in Journalism from Stanford University in 2020. He covers Legal Affairs and writes long form Investigative stories. His occasional cartooning can be seen in Bay Area Sketchbook. Joe encourages readers to email him story ideas and leads at joe.dworetzky@baycitynews.com.