Some Republicans are worried that an anti-government surge among conservatives will lead to lower participation in the U.S. census, which they fear could reduce the number of Republican seats in Congress and state legislatures.
The census, which is currently being collated and is gathered every ten years, dictates the distribution of federal funding, how many House members each state gets and how congressional and legislative districts are drawn within states.
Conservative activists this year have argued it is unconstitutional for the census to ask anything beyond the number of people in a household. This year's census form also seeks information on race, gender and age, among other things, and filling it out is required by law. The census has asked similar questions for decades.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.), who is admired by many tea-party activists and ultra-conservatives, has said she will refuse to provide information about anything except the number of people in her household.
Rep. Ron Paul (R., Texas), a former presidential candidate with a small but ardent following, was the only lawmaker to vote against a recent congressional resolution urging participation in the census.
Respondents must answer all questions on the census at the risk of a fine of as much as $100, according to the Census 2010 Web site. If forms are sent in incomplete, census workers are sent out to those homes to collect the missing data.
"The census should be nothing more than a headcount," Mr. Paul wrote this month in his weekly column. "It was never intended to serve as a vehicle for gathering personal information on citizens."
In a counter move, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R., N.C.), the top Republican on the House subcommittee that oversees the census, posted a message last week on Redstate.com, a popular conservative Web site, pleading with conservatives to fill out their forms.
The unstated concern: An under-representation of conservatives could mean fewer Republicans in Congress and state legislatures for the next 10 years.
"It's your constitutional duty to respond to this," Mr. McHenry said in an interview. "It's often difficult for conservatives to separate overall government intervention from a question as simple as the census."
In previous years it was mostly Democrats who complained about the census, warning that minorities and the poor may be undercounted because they are often hard to reach and distrust government. These groups often vote Democratic.
The Census Bureau is fighting a perception the census goes beyond what the nation's founders intended, noting that the Constitution authorizes lawmakers to conduct the census "in such manner as they shall by law direct."