The Constitution demands that we count everyone who lives in the United States once a decade. This year, the president is demanding that we stop counting before we’re done.

Over the objections of professional demographers in the Census Bureau, the Trump administration is cutting in half the usual two-month period of counting people who did not respond to the census by mail or online. It’s also cutting the budgeted “clean up” time where the bureau checks its data for accuracy to avoid double counting.

Along with an ongoing court battle by the administration to remove undocumented immigrants from the official count, this could be the least accurate census in modern times, and that matters.

Census figures are used to determine political representation. States gain or lose congressional districts based on their census count.

It’s also used to distribute federal funds for health care, education and highway projects. If you are not counted in the census, it’s as if you don’t exist when the money is distributed even though you are still using the hospitals, schools or roads.

Maine started slowly in participating in the current census, but it’s since become a national leader with 96.3 percent of the population official counted. As good as that sounds, a 3.7 percent undercount would be a fiscal catastrophe for the state that is already looking at a projected $882 million drop in tax collection over the next two years due to the COVID-caused economic crisis.

According to a study issued by the House Government Oversight Committee, a 1 percent undercount in Maine would mean the loss of $21 million in federal funding for Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program and the foster care assistance program.

A 1 percent undercount would mean the loss of $540,000 in funding for schools and nearly $400,000 in federal job programs.

The 2010 census was conducted under much more favorable circumstances, and it undercounted the population by 16 million people. An accurate count this year, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that limits face-to-face contact, would have been a challenge. But having the census run by an administration that is trying to intentionally undercount the population for perceived political advantage is likely to give us the least accurate census in modern times, potentially handcuffing the federal government for a decade.

2020 is a year in which we need more time to conduct an accurate count, not less. The census should not be shutting down early.

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