By Wendy Underhill
It seems like some people are nervous about the 2020 census.
A person can talk all day long (as I love to do) about how the census is important for the distribution of economic and political power, how it’s required by the U.S. Constitution, and why states can translate getting more people counted into getting more federal funding.
But if people are fearful about this federal enterprise, they may not respond to the census next year.
Colorado is doing something to combat those worries with the slogan, “It’s Safe. It’s Secure. It’s Important.”
In December 2018, Colorado kicked off its complete count campaign (CCC), which strives to increase awareness about the 2020 census in part by responding to questions and concerns about the process.
To find out more about those concerns, I visited Natriece Bryant, the CCC’s state chair, in her downtown Denver office a month ago. Here are some key questions and her answers:
- Worried about strangers coming to your door? Answer online. The 2020 census will be the first where online responses are possible, and in fact, this option is the one preferred by the Census Bureau. For those without a laptop or smartphone, libraries and other civic locations are likely to provide access.
- Worried about cybersecurity and don’t want to answer online? Then answer on paper or by phone. No shame in going old school—and on-the-phone assistance is available in a dozen languages.
- Worried about the Census Bureau coordinating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)? It’s illegal for the bureau to do so and the Colorado CCC has a fact sheet on that.
- Worried that you don’t matter? Think again. Census data drives the formulas that send federal money to states. The more people, the more federal funding.
“People don’t understand where our money is coming from,” says Bryant. She ticked off a variety of federal programs that provide funding to Colorado, with funding for roads at the top of her list.
“The roads we look at right now, if you pave them with concrete it’s more expensive than asphalt,” Bryant says. “So, we fix the cheaper way. Guess what? Asphalt doesn’t last as long. If we have more people counted, we get more federal funding—$2,300 more per person, per year, all based on census data for this decade.”
It’s great to have a campaign, but so far, it is a voluntary statewide consortium, with no special funding. That may change. A bipartisan team of legislators introduced HB 1239, which asks for $12 million in funding. If enacted, the state would be able to make grants to community groups throughout the state for targeted census campaigns.
Want to hear more about Colorado’s outreach plan? Bryant will be part of NCSL’s Census Outreach: What States Can Do webinar on May 17, 2 p.m. EDT/1 p.m. CDT/noon MDT/11 a.m. PDT. Or, visit NCSL’s census talking points and our 2020 Census Resources and Legislation page.
Wendy Underhill is NCSL’s director of Elections and Redistricting.