The NCSL Blog

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By Christi Zamarripi

Today is Census Day—the official date of the 2020 decennial census.

A person holds census information handed out at an event in New York City on February 22.Even in these uncertain times of the coronavirus, today is still the reference date for counting all people in the United States wherever they live or are staying. However, did you know that Census Day hasn’t always been April 1?

The first census act, signed by President George Washington, Vice President John Adams and House Speaker Frederick Muhlenberg, stated that the count should begin on Aug. 1, 1790. The first decennial census represented the first time all 13 states, plus the districts of Kentucky, Maine and Vermont, and the Southwest Territory (Tennessee) were counted at the same time. 

For several censuses, the census date was the first Monday of August. However, that changed in 1830 when the census date was changed from Aug. 1 to June 1. President John Quincy Adams, who had supervised the 1820 census, suggested that enumeration would benefit from having a few more months of good weather.

Again, weather was a factor in the decision to make April 1 the new census day for the 1930 census. An interesting tidbit was that the original 1930 census bill called for two censuses—one census of agriculture in November and one census of population in April. The Department of Agriculture argued that the period between Christmas and April 1 represented the greatest fluctuations of occupancy on farms. Congress eventually determined, for economic reasons, there would only be one census and it would start on April 1. This date has been our Census Day ever since.

Despite the changes to the census throughout the years, the one constant is that our Constitution mandates for an “actual Enumeration.” That’s why 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 coronavirus is affecting the 2020 census, but don’t disregard the fact that today is still Census Day. The Census Bureau’s operational plans have changed, and more changes are likely to come. Yet, the bureau will continue to adapt and adjust its operations to ensure everyone is counted in a timely, safe and effective manner.

By today, every home should have received an invitation to participate in the 2020 census. According to the bureau, around 36% of households have already responded. This is a great initial response, but the Census Bureau encourages everyone to fill out the census either online, by phone or mail—it’s easy and quick.

So, as a nod to Census Day, I can report that my 2020 census questionnaire has been completed.

If you are interested in learning more about the 2020 Census, check out NCSL’s 2020 Census webpage.

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

Email Christi

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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.