By Patrick R. Potyondy
California gained its last U.S. House congressional seat by a mere 18 people after the 2000 Census. In Clark County, Nev., officials used census data to identify the at-home spoken language for a population of children who were disproportionately drowning at public pools so that they could be effectively reached. And Thomas Jefferson conducted the first census in 1790.
These are just a few of the fascinating factoids we learned at the NCSL Capitol Forum session “Census 2020: What Legislators Can Do to Ensure an Accurate Count," that was well-moderated by South Dakota Representative Kristin Conzet (R).
So important is the census to Assistant Regional Census Manager Jeff Enos that he dutifully attended the panel on his birthday. He not only stressed the importance of the census—12 congressional seats gained and lost by states in 2010, more than $6 trillion of federal funding allocated using census data between 2010 and 2020—but he updated the audience on the latest bureau plans.
He emphasized the four areas of technological innovation for this round: a more accurate address list, easier response options, better use of existing information, and a more efficient field operation. Most of the changes are aimed at reducing the “inefficiency of paper shuffling.”
Nevada State Demographer Jeff Hardcastle discussed two key resources for state legislators that utilize and provide census data: the State Data Center program (SDC) and the Federal State Cooperative for Population Estimates (FSCPE). Among many other things, experts from these organizations can help policymakers with count reviews, one of which from 2010 in Nevada led to the allocation of an additional $42 million federal dollars to the Sagebrush State. If you don’t know your state demographer, or what data they can offer, here’s how to find them.
Ann Turtle of the California State Assembly’s Democratic Office of Communications and Outreach provided in-depth state-level examples of how legislators can support an accurate census—and just how important that can be. For instance, her state gained the congressional seat mentioned above after the 2000 Census by the slimmest of counts. And since 2011, the Golden State has lost out on more than $2 billion per year because of undercounting in the 2010 Census.
That is why California is already investing millions of dollars in outreach and accurate address lists for the 2020 Census. Legislators want to build trust with the state’s many communities so that every person is counted. You can find examples of census-related legislation and executive orders as well as training videos and resource guides at this California census resource page.
For more on the 2020 Census, read our NCSL LegisBrief.
Patrick Potyondy is a Mellon-ACLS public fellow and a legislative policy specialist with NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.