By Patrick R. Potyondy
The decennial U.S. Census is just around the corner. No really, it is.
Preparation for each census, in fact, begins immediately after the previous one ends. Questions are (usually) tested years ahead of time. Processes are fine-tuned. Staff are hired and trained.
States have much to lose if everyone is not counted. Congressional apportionment is conducted, redistricting undertaken, and hundreds of billions of dollars are allocated—all based on census data.
Not to mention how countless businesses, nonprofits, and public officials use the gathered information to determine everything from where cemeteries can be placed to the locations of new public libraries.
Legislation routinely relies on census data. My favorite current bill? House bill 4945 out of Michigan, which uses decennial census figures to determine when a village or city can request permission for golf carts to drive on certain roads.
Knowing its importance, the states are beginning to ramp up their efforts to promote the census in earnest.
Illinois’ legislature was the first state to create a statewide complete count commission, way back in August of 2017. The Illinois Complete Count Commission Act “requires the Commission to develop, recommend, and assist in the administration of a census outreach strategy to encourage full participation in the 2020 federal decennial census of population; provides the census outreach strategy shall include, but not be limited to, State agency initiatives to encourage participation in the 2020 Census, the establishment and support of school-based outreach programs, and certain partnerships.”
New York recently joined Illinois in passing legislation to establish its complete count commission as well. California and Georgia have also crated state-level complete count committees, both via executive orders.
In addition to complete count committees, state legislatures are also allocating funds to census outreach. California’s General Assembly has already appropriated $10 million, with another $30 million possible. Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington each appropriated several hundred thousand dollars. Georgia funded its efforts with $2.25 million, and Maryland put up a cool $5 million. Arizona has a $2 million package pending in the legislature.
Some other efforts are noteworthy, too, beyond the statehouse. For instance, the Rockefeller Institute of Government from the State University of New York has launched NY Counts, a “cutting-edge voting rights and open government resource center designed to guide New Yorkers through the 2020 census and redistricting process. It is committed to the principal that nonpartisan and empirically based analysis must govern that process and will assist lawmakers in carrying out the constitutionally mandated census and redistricting.”
Clearly, the above states, and others, know that every person who is not counted can mean lost dollars, inaccurate redistricting, and even a lost or gained congressional seat.
If you know of actions that your state is taking, please feel free to contact NCSL’s Patrick Potyondy, so that it might be included on the 2020 Census resource and legislation page and shared with others.
Patrick Potyondy is a Mellon-ACLS public fellow and a legislative policy specialist with NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.