Representatives from the U.S. Census Bureau and nonprofits on Jul. 22 discussed the ongoing 2020 Census count and the legal issues surrounding it as part of a CLE presentation hosted by the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association.
More than 65% of Coloradans have filled out the 2020 Census so far, slightly more than the national average of 62.3%, according to Luis Alvarez, partnership specialist for the San Luis Valley at the U.S. Census Bureau. Nationally, nearly half of households who have responded have done so online.
But response rates vary by county and across demographic groups. According to Gillian Winbourn of the census outreach group Together We Count, the “hard-to-count” population includes children under age 5, ethnic and racial minorities, renters, people in rural areas and those who speak little English. In Colorado, it also includes adults over 65, in part due to internet connectivity issues and lack of trust in online processes, as well as mountain communities, which have a lot of seasonal workers and second homes.
More than 64% of white people in the U.S. have responded to the 2020 Census so far, according to data provided by Winbourn, compared to 55% for Hispanics/Latinos and about 52% among the black population. American Indians and Alaska Natives have the lowest response rate at just over 41%.
Winbourn said a common concern about the census among hard-to-count Coloradans is whether there will be a question about citizenship. The U.S. Supreme Court took that question off the table last summer, but rumors and misinformation still linger, she added. Many also have privacy concerns and don’t believe their information is safe, Winbourn said, even though, by law, the Census Bureau cannot release identifiable information to anyone, even law enforcement.
Fears about a citizenship question or privacy could lead to lower response rates, particularly among Latinos and immigrants, diluting their representation and skewing Congressional redistricting. A presidential memorandum issued Jul. 21 by President Donald Trump, which calls for the exclusion of undocumented immigrants from the apportionment base for redistricting, has heightened concerns about underrepresentation in areas with large Latino and immigrant populations.
There is some good news for people worried about redistricting and gerrymandering, according to Amanda Gonzalez, executive director of government transparency group Colorado Common Cause. Amendments Y and Z, passed by Colorado voters in 2018, will create independent commissions to draw districts for Congress and the state legislature. Anyone who has been a professional lobbyist, elected public official or political party official in the last three years is barred from serving on the commissions.
“This is the gold standard,” Gonzalez said. “If you’re running for office, or if your team is running for office, you shouldn’t be the one drawing the maps.”
Gonzalez urged CHBA members and others in the legal community to consider serving on the commissions or to encourage people they know to apply. The application process opens in August and applications are due Nov. 10.