Census Error Renews Hope of New House Seat

Census Error Renews Hope of New House Seat

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's once-a-decade head count ended three years ago but Utah still isn't accepting the result.

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt on Friday asked the bureau to extend the deadline on a program that allows states and communities to challenge the original 2000 census results. That came after the bureau this week said a counting error left the state about 80 people short of a fourth seat in Congress, instead of about 900.

The disputed seat went to North Carolina, which added a 13th district in 2002. State officials say an extension may help Utah find those elusive 80 residents.

"Understandably, this is of particular importance to the state of Utah -- a state that, like North Carolina, is on the cusp of eligibility for an additional seat in the House of Representatives," Leavitt wrote in requesting an extension. "Clearly this is a matter that deserves additional consideration."

The challenge program started in 2001 and ended Tuesday, the day that bureau officials disclosed it had mistakenly double counted nearly 2,700 people at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Bureau officials on Friday had yet to receive Leavitt's request.

The dispute had already been the subject of two lawsuits filed by Utah that failed at the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It's like the monster that wouldn't die, they just keep coming back," North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said Friday. "The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on this issue and that should end it."

Even with an extension, associate census director Preston Jay Waite said it was highly unlikely Utah would find 80 people. The program is designed primarily to settle boundary disputes between towns or uncovering computer coding errors that placed people at the wrong location -- cases that don't typically add to a state's population.

Even if the bureau did extend the challenge program deadline and Utah found another 80 people, it is unclear whether that would hold up legally. A Federal Register notice published before the census said any changes in population that resulted from a challenge would not affect reapportionment, Waite said.

Cooper was more pointed, saying that federal law prohibited any population adjustments from affecting congressional districts "even if the adjustment were to change the population to make a difference."

By law, the 435 seats in the House are redistributed among the states at the start of each decade according to population shifts found in the census.

Still, because of the complicated math formula used in reapportionment, the error wasn't enough to give Utah the seat, though it did reduce the margin separating it from North Carolina.

State officials and Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, said it was too early to determine whether the state would take more legal action but they were hopeful the challenge program would be extended.

Meanwhile, about 15 more population count reviews have yet to be completed for North Carolina, though Waite said those cases, too, were unlikely to produce any more changes. All reviews for Utah have been completed.

The bureau on Tuesday said the University of North Carolina error resulted from students returning census forms they were not supposed to receive. At the same time, the school also counted the same students in the tally it provided to the Census Bureau.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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