Counting everyone once, only once, and in the right place. It’s easy to see the parallels between election administration and the decennial census. That’s one reason I’m so passionate about the 2020 Census.
The April 1, 2020 event is just around the corner and I’m happy to share that Pierce County has gotten a head start to ensure that every county resident is accurately counted.
Pierce County’s GIS team (Brandy Riche and Chuck Buzzard) kicked off the process in March with a review of census block and dwelling unit data for all incorporated and unincorporated areas within Pierce County. Thanks to their hard work and expertise, the entire county now has 362,445 address records verified and geo-located in the GIS spatial layer. This advance work (within a 120-day window!) means we have outstanding address verification and a substantial advantage for the redistricting work that begins in 2021.
Now, we’re thinking through local communication and outreach strategies. We’ve teamed up with the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation to marshal key leaders in organizations, agencies, and associations who will reach, empower, and activate their networks. Together, we are the Pierce County Complete Count Committee.
Our mission is to convince 100% of Pierce County’s residents that the census process is safe, quick, and very important to the future of our state, our county, and communities. This is particularly challenging in 2020:
• 60% of the count is expected to be made through self-reports via an online Census portal. This is happening at a time when hacking, cybersecurity, and foreign influence are top-of-mind.
• Distrust in government is acutely high today. Many people doubt that their data will remain private. Or, they simply don’t believe what the United States government tells them.
• Partisan debate over the addition of a citizenship question has politicized the count and intertwined it with the 2020 General Election.
• Three of Pierce County’s most common languages – Ukrainian, Samoan, Cambodian – will not be supported by the federal program. Translated documents and in-person outreach will depend heavily upon local volunteers.
The Pierce County Complete Count Committee is determined to get everyone counted. We are especially focused on hard to count communities:
• Black, Hispanic, and Asian residents. The U.S. Census projects a 10% undercount of these populations in Pierce County.
• Immigrants who may fear deportation, as well as people who are learning English.
• Children under the age of five.
• Elderly, isolated residents.
• People experiencing homelessness or living in nontraditional homes.
We will distribute a free communication toolkit to everyone in the community, provide outreach grants to organizations, and identify trusted messengers to talk about the census.
There’s a lot at stake. A complete count of every person living in the United States:
• Determines how many representatives we have in Congress. From the 2010 Census, Washington State gained a Congressional District (Pierce County’s 10th CD).
• Is used to fairly distribute more than $675 billion in federal funds to states and local communities. Each uncounted person in Pierce County represents a loss of $1,900 in federal funds per person per year.
• Informs business decisions, policy, and community initiatives, such as our emergency response planning, litigation of voting rights, development of rural areas, and labor supply.
We’ll be in touch with each of you several times over the next 291 days (who’s counting?), asking for your help to reach neighbors, friends, and families. Pierce County employees are essential to help protect Washington’s voice in Congress, bring tax dollars to our neighborhoods, and improve our planning and services. In the meantime, check out Pierce County’s 2020 Census page.
Julie Anderson is Pierce County’s Auditor