The NCSL Blog


By Wendy Underhill

Recently I wrote about California's complete count committee (CCC) for the census. Now I’m reporting on what I learned from my visit to Washington’s complete count shop.

Alpha Stock Images -, it is requesting an appropriation of $4.5 million—far below California’s $154 million, but well ahead of census-related appropriations in many states.

Second, “the decennial census is about geography, addresses and outreach,” according to state demographer Yi Zhao. “You need to find houses first, and then make sure the people who live in those houses fill out the form.”

I liked that line-up of priorities.

“Geography” represents clean jurisdictional lines. Have annexations and other adjustments been captured in official maps by the state, and shared with the census? Washington has an agreement with the census that it will only accept state-approved boundary changes via annexation. This is to guarantee that local jurisdictions, the state and federal agencies have consistent and accurate city boundaries for the 2020 census.

“Addresses” refers to the state working with the U.S. Census Bureau’s Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program, in which the census LUCA has provided local, tribal and state jurisdictions the opportunity to comment on the census’ residential address listings—where they’ll contact residents when the census gets underway in 2020.

Washington’s CCC has been diligent about working with the U.S. Census Bureau’s LUCA program, which has been underway for a couple of years now. The appeals process for local addresses is just beginning, so states have another opportunity to ensure accuracy.

“Outreach” comes last, when the CCC at the state level works with local jurisdictions, grassroots organizations, elected officials at all levels (including legislators), and anyone else who is interested to spread the word that the census is coming—and that it matters.

As for legislators, it’s not so much that they need to know the timeline of census preparations, it’s that they probably would like to know that their state is doing what it can to help the census prep for the full count, which starts barely a year from now.

“They’ll understand the fair distribution of political power and also the fair distribution of economic power,” says Lisa McLean, the Washington CCC coordinator. They know the state shares gas taxes, liquor taxes and marijuana taxes based on census data—so they want to know that the full federal and state funds that are due to their districts are indeed flowing.

And here are three more things I learned in Washington:

  • Scammers are likely to try to piggyback on the census, and perhaps send official-looking mail that says, “for the census we need your social security number” and other private data. People need to know how to tell the real from the fraudulent.
  • It’s great to have CCC plans that run to dozens of pages on outreach, but it is even more important to have a well-designed one-pager. Once done, it can be handed to varied groups, such as legislators, who may want to customize it for their specific audiences.
  • The census is soon going to be hiring tens of thousands of workers, and it’s important that they come from all ethnic and cultural communities because they’ll have more success getting people to respond in their own communities than “outsiders.” CCCs can spread that word.

In fact, spreading the word is what it’s all about.

Wendy Underhill is the director of elections and redistricting at NCSL and she ’d like to hear about your state’s census activities.

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About the NCSL Blog

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.