Census 2020 is almost here: It could be the most empowering event of the year: Quick facts you need to know about the nation’s “self-portrait” and who should participate (everyone except very short-term visitors)

Editor’s Note: The following is part two of a two-part article on the U.S. Census

Residents, not “citizens”

Given the fact that the census results affect politics, there’s a hot debate in some quarters about whether the census should count just citizens or all residents. The Constitution is clear about that, Lowenthal said.

“Congress has debated whether to change the basis for apportionment to ‘citizens’ or even ‘voters’ at several points in our history, including when the Constitution was drafted, but each time, lawmakers ultimately rejected a change,” she said. “The requirement says that the apportionment must be based on the ‘whole number of persons.’”

In other words, no matter who you are, you NEED to be counted in the census.

Why? “Because the constitution says so,” census experts say.

“Please include everybody in the household in the questionnaire,” said NALEO’s Vargas. “The Census Bureau won’t go back to check if you listed everyone, and getting everyone to count is extremely important for our communities.”

Three ways of self-responding
People insist on calling this “the first digital census,” but, in reality, not everyone has to respond digitally. Some prefer to call it “the first high-tech census.” But to respond online is just one option. All households will have the chance to “self-respond” to the census either by internet, telephone or the “traditional” paper questionnaire that, until now, has been the most common method of collecting census data for more than a century.

Starting March 12, 95% of households will get a package in the mail from the Census Bureau. Most people (80%) will get a LETTER with a unique ID inviting them to respond online; 20% of homes get a similar letter plus a paper questionnaire in the first mailing. The mailings will be sent in four waves (March 12, 13, 19 and 20).

Then there will be as many as four more mailings:

A reminder letter

A reminder postcard to households that have not self-responded

A reminder letter plus paper questionnaire to those who have not self-responded (April 8-16)

An “it’s not too late” postcard (also to non-responders)

Self-respond, don’t get a knock on the door

When the Census Bureau does not hear from a household in the self-response phase, which starts March 12 and ends April 30, there will be a follow-up operation to try to get everyone else counted. That includes door-to-door visits, conducted from May 9 until the end of July.

Some people really don’t like the idea of getting one of these visits. In a recent chat with this reporter, Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), said that the best way to avoid the “knock” on the door is to be pro-active and “SELF-RESPOND” to the census.

But is it safe and confidential?
The short answer is YES. “The Census Act, Title 12, United States Code, includes the strictest confidentiality laws on the federal books, to my knowledge,” Lowenthal said at a census webinar for community organizations. “There are other privacy laws that provide an additional layer of protection.”

By law, the Census Bureau may not share personally identifiable information with any other governmental agency (at any level of government), any private business, or any other party outside the Census Bureau, for any reason or purpose.

The longer answer is that a lot of public interest lawyers and community leaders are ready to intervene if there’s even a hint that the current administration has violated any of these laws.

“We know many people don’t trust this administration to follow the law, so MALDEF and others are part of a coalition of organizations and respected leaders who have pledged to step in ‘early and heavy’ if there’s any hint of violation of census data,” MALDEF’s Saenz said.

TIMELINE
(Courtesy of NALEO)
January 2020: The first enumeration begins in remote areas of Alaska
March-April 2020: Self-response phase begins (online, mail and phone)
March 29-April 4: National Week of Action
April 1: NATIONAL CENSUS DAY
April 30: Self-respond by this date to decrease chances of enumerator visit.
May-July 2020: Primary nonresponse followup operation (for households that did not self-respond)
Dec. 31, 2020: The Census Bureau delivers final apportionment count to the White House.

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