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Census Bureau seeking driver’s license info, admin records

Effort will help officials comply with president‘s order to publish citizenship data on U.S. residents

Protesters hold signs at a rally in front of the Supreme Court in June after a ruling on the citizenship question in the 2020 census. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Protesters hold signs at a rally in front of the Supreme Court in June after a ruling on the citizenship question in the 2020 census. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The U.S. Census Bureau wants even more details on American residents, requesting states to provide driver’s license and administrative records to add to a trove of federal data being collected by the agency in its census count.

Officials plan to use the administrative information to help record people who might not otherwise respond to next year’s decennial survey, as well as to comply with President Donald Trump’s order to publish data on the citizenship of U.S. residents.

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators confirmed Tuesday that several of its member-state organizations had received requests from the Census Bureau to provide the data.

The organization president said in an email last month to members that the Census Bureau had requested the name, address, date of birth, sex, race, eye color and citizenship status from state agencies. A spokesperson for the organization said it has no national model for such data sharing, and it would be up to individual states whether they participate.

[More diverse Pennsylvania and Florida districts might shape 2020 politics]

Two of those states, Florida and Arkansas, said they have yet to respond to the Census Bureau request.

“The department has received a request, but has not responded at this time,” Beth Frady, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, said in an email Tuesday.

The Census Bureau referred questions about the request to a statement on its website noting that it regularly enters into data sharing agreements with federal, state and local entities. The data collection may include information about public assistance program beneficiaries, but the individuals’ identities will still be protected under federal law, the statement said.

“Using information previously collected by other organizations saves taxpayers money and reduces the burden on the public, while still allowing the Census Bureau to deliver high-quality data products,” the statement said. The agency’s request for driver’s license data was first reported by The Associated Press.

Separately, the administration published a Federal Register notice last month seeking approval to collect administrative records from state programs. The notice said the records “will be used to support the decennial census program as well as for research topics that includes eligibility analyses.” It did not provide further detail about what programs might be included.

This year’s census is set to use more administrative records to count residents, and the number of U.S. citizens, than any census in history, according to census officials. The agency has worked to collect that information after Trump issued an executive order in July to produce citizenship data using administrative records. The order was issued after the Supreme Court ruled Trump could not add a citizenship question to the actual census.

Several civil rights groups, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, have challenged Trump’s executive order, arguing it violates the Constitution and administrative law. The Electronic Privacy Information Center previously filed suit against the citizenship question’s addition over privacy concerns.

Census Bureau officials told an advisory panel last month that it has been working with the departments of Justice and State and other federal agencies to obtain their data on citizenship. The agency’s chief scientist, John Abowd, said at the time that vetting and finalizing data-sharing agreements would take several months.

Next year, the agency plans to make a determination about the information it will release pursuant to the executive order.

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