The NCSL Blog

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By Christi Zamarripa

One year from today is Census Day!

It is important for everyone residing in the United States to be counted in the census to ensure all voices are heard and represented. The census equals fair representation and fair federal funding for states, cities and communities every year until 2030.

The action of taking an enumeration is not new. According to the History Channel, the ancient Babylonians, Chinese, Egyptians and Romans all conducted censuses. In 1086, William the Conqueror produced a record of English landowners in the Domesday Book.

The United States conducted its first census in 1790. The 2020 Census will be the 24th in our nation’s history.

The first U.S. census had a total of six questions and Congress assigned 350 marshals and their assistants to help count the residents in the 13 states and territories. The first official count of our nation was a grand total of 3,929,214 (17.8 percent of whom were slaves).

The 2020 questionnaire has a few more questions, 11 with the citizenship question or 10 without, but the census will be easy for people to complete. People can respond by paper, over the phone and online—making it the first “high tech” census. The online questionnaire can be completed on a smartphone, tablet or computer. Also, the Census Bureau is setting up internet kiosks at libraries and other community centers.

How can we be sure to get a correct enumeration? By engaging everyone—children, seniors, minorities, immigrants, tribal members, homeless, homeowners, renters, students and others. Many states, local governments and community organizations are helping to get out the count.

Some burning questions that only the census can answer:

  • In 2010, Pennsylvania was the fifth most populous state with Illinois trailing by a little more than 60,000. What states will be the top 10 most populous in 2020?
  • New York City has been named the largest city in the United States for each and every census. But how will the other cities rank? In 2010, only 68,000 people separated Philadelphia and San Antonio. What order will the cities rank in 2020?
  • The 2010 census count returned a population total of more than 308 million. How high will the count go in 2020?

The only way these questions can be answered is if everyone participates … Everyone!

For more information on the census and what actions the states are taking to ensure an accurate count, check out NCSL's 2020 census and legislation resources.

Christi Zamarripa is a policy associate with NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.

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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.