Arkansas, 15 other states, back Alabama challenge to Census privacy tool

National News

FILE – This March 19, 2020, file photo, shows an envelope containing a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident. On Wednesday, March 24, 2021, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the state of Ohio that tried to get the U.S. Census Bureau to provide data used for drawing congressional and legislative districts ahead of its planned release. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Sixteen states, including Arkansas, are backing Alabama’s challenge to a new method the Census Bureau is using in an effort to protect the privacy of people who participated in the headcount.

A judge on Monday allowed the 16 states to file briefs in a support of a lawsuit brought by Alabama last month.

Alabama’s lawsuit seeks to stop the Census Bureau from using the statistical method known as “differential privacy” in the numbers that will be used for redrawing congressional and legislative seats later this year.

The states are Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.

The 16 states supporting Alabama said that differential privacy’s use in the redistricting numbers will make the figures inaccurate for all states, especially at small geographic levels, and the Census Bureau could use other methods to protect people’s privacy.

Differential privacy “would make accurate redistricting at the local level impossible,” violating the constitutional obligation that districts have equal populations, and it also could harm long-running research on health and safety, their brief said.

“Because differential privacy creates false information—by design—it prevents the states from accessing municipal-level information crucial to performing this essential government functions,” the 16 states said. “And the distorting impact of differential privacy will likely fall hardest on some of the most vulnerable populations—rural areas and minority racial groups.”

A pair of civil rights groups also raised concerns, saying an examination of test Census data showed differential privacy produced numbers that were less accurate for determining if a racial or ethnic minority group formed a majority in a particular community, potentially diluting their local political power. Democratic-led lawmakers in California, the nation’s largest state, also raised concerns about differential privacy in a recent letter to President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, Ronald Klain.

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