High Desert Sketches: The census, suppressed voting, and javelinas

The zodiac sign, Scorpio, is often described as the sign with the greatest potential for good or evil. My personal belief is that the same parameters apply to the United States Census. Let me explain why. As my readers know, once a decade, America comes together to count every resident in the United States, creating national awareness of the importance of the census and its valuable statistics. The decennial census was first taken in 1790, as mandated by the Constitution. It counts our population and households, providing the basis for reapportioning congressional seats, redistricting, and distributing more than $675 billion in federal funds annually to support states, counties and communities’ vital programs — impacting housing, education, transportation, employment, health care and public policy.

The evil part of my supposition reveals itself in the phrase, “reapportioning congressional seats,” which means that to accomplish this feat, state legislatures must determine how to slice up a state’s voter population in such a way to give their party control of the congressional reapportionment. The Census Bureau will spend $15.6 billion to gather a few key facts about all residents — address, age, race/ethnicity, home ownership and household members — as of April 1, 2020.

Two more elements add to the evil potential of the census: low census turnout and voter suppression. The Republicans have turned voter suppression into a demoniacal art form. In a number of Republican controlled states they have required so much identification to both register and vote. Some Republican states have required state-related picture IDs, birth certificates and everything else except a DNA test, and that may be coming. Their theory is that ID can prove difficult for the elderly, the poor and individuals with disability. If voters receive their voter registration, they can face the same hurdles when they show up to vote. The Republican’s theory is that these three groups too often vote Democratic. So far, federal courts have knocked down most of these onerous rules.

While California has allocated $187.2 million to promote the census, Texas has allocated nothing. The Texas Neanderthals do not want an accurate census count because they want the status quo. Their thinking is simple (as usual) because they are strong supporters of gerrymandering, a technique that draws boundary lines in such a way as to exclude certain political parties, race or class. As a former Republican, I resent the fact that the GOP is doing everything possible to exclude many Americans from the opportunity to vote.

Before I moved to West Texas, I had never understood there may be dangers to the role of census takers. This realization came to me during the census of 2000. The first problem developed when the government hired people from other parts of the state to venture into the Big Bend to count the number of our residents. Big City dudes did not realize that two rural addresses might seem next to each other, but in fact be 10 or 20 miles apart. The rural address was on a road but the ranch house might be five or ten miles away. Also, some census takers had never seen a rattlesnake, a tarantula the size of a cantaloupe, an angry cow or a javelina (pronounced javelina).

Javelinas have often been described as wild, ugly pigs with an attitude. You might have an attitude if you had been described as a “wild, ugly pig,” when, in fact, you are a rather attractive peccary (at least to another javelina). Rumors have it that peccaries split from pigs 30 million years ago over the outcome of a University of Texas vs. Texas A&M football game. Javelinas have leaner bodies and longer legs than pigs. They do share a flat snout, short wiry hair and tusks. Stories abound about orphaned baby javelinas found along roadsides. From personal experience I can tell you that they are cute, curious and cuddly, but, grown, they tend to return to the pack.

A number of census workers reported being chased by fast moving javelinas, which probably wasn’t true. Shortly after moving to Alpine, I was told by a local, “I’ve seen you walk by my house several times and wanted to warn you about the javelinas. They like to browse in my vegetable garden and if you frighten them they can run in any direction, and if you happen to be standing where they are running you could really get hurt,” he advised. “They have eyesight about like you and are usually not aggressive, so try not to disturb them.” Another friend called and said, “When you come over go around the block because there are two juvenile javelinas taking naps on my neighbors front porch with her cat.” I was later to learn that most javelinas like cats and kill dogs.

My advice to the Feds is to employ census workers that do not suffer from any of zoophobia’s cousins, such as apiphobia (fear of bees), arachnophobia (fear of spiders), ornithophobia (fear of birds) and ophidiophobia (fear of snakes).