The NCSL Blog


By Wendy Underhill

The CCC: It’s not just for Civilian Conservation Corps anymore.

person filling out census formAmong the census crowd, it also stands for a Complete Count Committee, or sometimes a Complete Count Commission.

States (and localities) can set up CCCs to spread the news that the census is coming, and it’s to everyone’s advantage when people—all of them—self-respond to the census and are counted. 

I just had the opportunity to meet with Ditas Katague, the director of California’s Complete Count—Census 2020 (aka the state’s census office). The Golden State’s CCC has received $154.3 million in funding from the state, more than 10  times the amount any other state has funded to ensure a complete count.

California is using its past and future as a base for its census decisions.

The past: After the 1990 census, California was undercounted by 835,000 people (a number exceeding the population of the Alaska, District of Columbia, Vermont, North Dakota and Wyoming). While California gained two seats that cycle, if the count had been complete, according to Katague, it would have gained three.

The future: California is on the cusp of losing a seat after the 2020 census because “apportionment is a zero-sum game,” according to Katague. California plans to get enough people counted that it can hang on to its 53rd seat. (See projections from Election Data Services or Polidata for other likely gainers or losers.)

Katague also says that census outreach work is “the closest thing to a political campaign you can do without politics.” That means legislators and other elected officials—who know a thing or two about campaigning—are probably good at this work.

While California may be different than other states based on magnitude, the approach it is taking can be scaled to work elsewhere. Here are a few California ideas:

  • While state funding for nonpartisan state-level CCCs is great, philanthropic communities can sometimes provide microgrants to community-based committees and grassroots groups to spread the word, especially among “hard to count” groups.
  • Think of your CCC as playing an air game and a ground game. “Air” is PSAs and social media. “Ground” refers to those local groups.
  • School kids are particularly good messengers for their parents, so CCCs can work with educators to create curriculum tie-ins for the census (the largest civilian operation the nation engages in).
  • People respond best to “trusted messengers.” As legislators, you may be the trusted messenger for your engaged constituents, but you may not be the trusted messenger for some groups in your district. Maybe your public library is.
  •  “Be Californian. Be Counted.” That was California’s slogan 10 years ago, and this year’s is “Be counted, California!” On April 1, the census will release its national slogan—and maybe your state can piggyback on it.
  • Think about the timeline. For Katague, 2019 is to “educate and motivate” and 2020 is to “activate.”
  • Don’t give up until the last census office is closed in your state, and that is likely to be at least six months after the official Census Day, April 1, 2020.

Wendy Underhill is NCSL’s director of elections. She’d like to hear from everyone in the states who is working on the census.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.