April 1 was the national census day, and by now all American households should have received a form inviting them to visit the government’s census webpage or call a dedicated phone number to complete the questionnaire. Every head of household should do so as soon as possible.
The census date is not a deadline to respond; that date is July 31. Rather, people should be counted according to where they were living on that date.
For most people that place is home, especially with travel restrictions that have been imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That location places each resident in the respective political districts for that address.
One of the primary purposes of the census, which is taken every 10 years, is to better ensure equal representation under the laws. Our Constitution requires that after each census, congressional districts be redrawn so that each district has relatively the same number of residents, which in theory gives each representative the same amount of influence in the House of Representatives.
For the same reason, districts are similarly redrawn for state legislative districts, county and city commissions and other political regions.
Areas where the population has grown can gain more representation in our lawmaking bodies, while shrinking populations can lose representation.
Coronavirus measures do affect one major part of the census. College students who have returned home to self-quarantine will be counted at the location where they would have lived on April 1 under normal circumstances. If a student had been living in a university dormitory, apartment or fraternity house, that location is where the student should be counted, even if he or she has returned due to campus closures.
Universities will provide counts for people staying in dorms, and those students shouldn’t have to do anything. Anyone living off campus should have received a letter that includes an ID number for that address, as the forms were sent to the addresses, not to individuals.
Counting students at the university helps provide the schools’ districts the population needed to best receive federal funding and other resources to support the students’ presence there. Funding for highways and other features that help students and their families often are based on population numbers.
Listing students at their schools also means that families should not include those students on their census forms, even if the students were at home under coronavirus lockdown on April 1.
The census questionnaire has only about a dozen questions and should take about 10 minutes to complete. It requests names, but not Social Security numbers or any other identifying information. It does not ask about immigration or legal residency status, but it does ask about race and ethnicity.
Every American’s representation in government at all levels, and the allocation of out tax dollars, depends largely on our participation in the census. Everyone who hasn’t already participated should do so as soon as possible.