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Tenacious source work leads to national newsbreak on census fraud

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The on-the-record accounts from two census workers were stunning: They had falsified records in the 2020 headcount amid the Trump administration’s push to bring the census to an end. One even said she made up answers while in her car outside homes because the mobile device used for the count could track where a person was when making data entry.

Whom did they reveal this to? Not surprisingly, Florida-based reporter Mike Schneider, one of the nation’s foremost census reporters.

The two workers’ stories,since echoed by others who have reached out to Schneider,showed that U.S. Census Bureau supervisors were more interested in speed than accuracy — so much so that they were willing to encourage workers to commit fraud. Complementing Schneider’s story were images by Boston photographer Elise Amendola and Indianapolis freelancer AJ Mast, both of whom mobilized to get portraits of the two census workers who shared their stories.

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Former census taker Maria Arce poses outside her home in Natick, Mass., Nov. 6, 2020. Arce says her supervisor instructed her step-by-step how to trick a computer system so that she could close cases for the 2020 census by entering false information about homes that she hadn’t visited during the waning days of the nation’s head count. She told the AP that she felt guilty about lying but that she didn’t want to disobey her supervisors who kept repeating that they were under pressure from a regional office in New York to close cases. – AP Photo / Elise Amendola

The story was posted on Saturday,Nov. 7,roughly one hour before the presidential election was called for former Vice President Joe Biden. Given that timing,it would be logical to assume it would be overshadowed,but the metrics were remarkable: By Monday,the story had earned 1.28 million page views,with strong customer usage and reader engagement,and some 40,000 hits on social media.

The newsbreak was just the latest in a year’s worth of outstanding census coverage by Schneider,who stepped up in a big way when the pandemic hit. Collaborating with the data team,the Washington bureau and colleagues from Alaska to Puerto Rico,he has kept the AP at the forefront of breaking national stories about a multitude of legal battles,the dangers of an undercount among some demographic groups and efforts by the Trump administration to exclude people in the country illegally from the final headcount when new congressional districts are drawn.

For keeping the AP ahead in a critical coverage area with a terrific scoop, Schneider wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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