By Amanda Zoch
I know that New Mexico is truly a unique and beautiful state, but I did not know it’s also one of the hardest to count.
The Land of Enchantment is large and very rural—41% of the state’s population resides in hard-to-count areas—and approximately one-quarter of the state’s population has no in-home internet access or only dial-up internet. The state is also very diverse, with 23 Native American tribes and large Spanish-speaking populations. With so many hard-to-count groups, the state’s Complete Count Commission (CCC) has its work cut out for it.
I spoke with Olivia Padilla-Jackson, who serves as chair of the CCC, about the commission’s work to ensure an accurate census count in such a diverse and rural state.
First, the CCC must tackle a messaging challenge. Even though the U.S. Census Bureau provides numerous resources for raising census awareness, that material—according to Padilla-Jackson—“doesn’t really resonate with New Mexicans.”
Why not? She suggests that trust is an issue, observing that some members of the state’s Spanish-speaking and Native American communities remain skeptical of the federal government: “We have to work on that.”
Lack of trust in the census can result in an undercount and, consequently, less federal funding. So one of Padilla-Jackson’s biggest goals is to “find trusted voices in the communities and use localized messaging through them.” Designed with a “localized approach” in mind, the statewide CCC includes multiple subcommittees focused on different areas and hard-to-count groups, with the goal of getting every county to implement its own complete count commission through governmental grant agreements. By giving “every single county their own source of money,” she stresses, “they could then identify at a very localized level what hard-to-count groups are in their community and base their outreach strategies on that information.”
For tribal communities, New Mexico’s CCC both established a specialized subcommittee and encouraged tribal governments to set up their own CCCs. All of the state’s 33 counties and 19 Pueblos have opted into receiving funds from the statewide commission and creating their own CCCs.
In addition to building a tailored media plan—with “New Mexico-specific messaging” and Spanish translations on the website, social media and videos—the commission is also making the census more accessible to Native American communities. The Census Bureau has produced written instructions in just one Native language—Navajo (or Diné). There are several other Native languages in use in New Mexico, and Padilla-Jackson notes that many are also predominantly oral languages. To address this gap, the commission is producing audio recordings of census instructions in the languages of New Mexico’s different tribes.
For more on what other statewide CCCs are up to, see our earlier blog posts on Alabama, California, Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Washington.
Amanda Zoch is an NCSL legislative policy specialist and Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow.