EPPN Census Series: What happens next?

September 9, 2020

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census collects and provides critical population data to the federal government and to states. September 30th marks the last day of data collection for the 2020 Census, meaning this is both the last day for self-response online or over the phone, and the last day census workers will be visiting households to follow up on non-responses. The total percentage enumerated as of 9/8 is 88.2%, meaning we have not yet counted everyone – and we need to!

In the last few days of the census, help us push for the most accurate count possible by filling out the census if you have not already, and by encouraging others to do so.

Below are updates on the 2020 Census including the next steps, as of right now, that will occur following the September 30th deadline. A great deal has changed over the past few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and changing requests from the Census Bureau. 

Census and Coronavirus

The pandemic has disrupted the 2020 Census enumeration in a number of critical ways. Our own efforts, and those of other official census partners, have been disrupted with the necessary elimination of in-person activities that would have offered chances to advertise and facilitate enumeration. We had planned for congregations to hold education forums on the census, advertise the census around their immediate community, and even open their buildings (and WiFi) to help facilitate self-responses, which would have particularly helped hard-to-count populations. Despite these challenges, many of you stepped up to advertise the 2020 Census any way you could. Thank you for that work!

The Census Bureau also had to delay deployment of thousands of census workers to do non-response follow up and count people in particular types of living situations like those experiencing homeless, college students, those in prison, nursing homes, and Indigenous communities.

We have talked about why it is so important to have an accurate census count for more effective and efficient federal, state and local programs, private enterprise development, and of course the apportionment process of congressional seats. Undercounting the population within the U.S. has serious implications for future elections and the ability of government programs and services to be responsive to those who need them most.

While the aim now seems to be maintaining the data delivery date of December 31st to the President and April 1st to the states, the September 30th deadline does represent a two-month extended window for data collection beyond the original pre-COVID schedule. The Census Bureau originally requested to delay the data delivery by several months, which would have allowed even more time to get a more accurate count and finalize processing the data. However, doing so would not come without other drawbacks and challenges.

Were we to see a delay in delivering data to states, as the Brennan Center noted, “the delays [would] impact the legal or customary redistricting timelines of most states and, in many cases, [would] require changes to redistricting deadlines and processes set by state law.” Further, some states would have had “to adjust their candidate filing or qualification periods and/or move primary dates. Delays would also impact elections in New Jersey and Virginia, the two states with general elections scheduled in 2021.” The challenges of a disrupted and compressed redistricting process would be significant.

Read this from the National Conference of State Legislatures for more detailed information on the delays in the census data collection and delivery.

On Apportionment and Redistricting

Apportionment is the process of dividing the 435 seats of the House of Representatives among the 50 states using a proportional method of equal proportions. This happens through a number of processes at the federal and state levels.

According to the Census Bureau, “The apportionment calculation is based upon the total resident population (citizens and noncitizens) of the 50 states. In the 2020 Census, the apportionment population also includes U.S. Armed Forces personnel and federal civilian employees stationed outside the United States (and their dependents living with them) that can be allocated back to a home state.” Once data collection for the 2020 Census concludes, Title 13 of the U.S. Code mandates that the population counts for apportionment be delivered to the President within 9 months of the census start date, which was officially April 1, meaning the data is due to the President by December 31.

The Bureau further stipulates that “within one week of the opening of the next session of the Congress [January 3], the President must report to the Clerk of the House of Representatives the apportionment population counts for each state and the number of Representatives to which each state is entitled. [Then] within 15 days, the Clerk of the House must inform each state governor of the number of representatives to which each state is entitled.”

After these initial steps, by April 1, 2021, the Census Bureau must also send directly to each state more detailed sociodemographic data of each state. From here, states must pass redistricting plans for state legislative and congressional seats on the basis of this data. This can be a swift process, as an overwhelming majority of states must pass them by the candidate filing deadlines for the 2022 elections. Thus, members of the House represent new congressional districts in the decade from 2023 onward.

On Litigation and the 2020 Census

In addition to the details above, you can find information below about a number of pending court cases related to the census count. Several of these cases pertain to a memorandum from the Trump Administration attempting to exclude undocumented immigrants from census data during the apportionment of congressional seats. A list and summaries from the Brennan Center are below.

Alabama v. United States Department of Commerce
The State of Alabama filed a lawsuit against the Commerce Department and Census Bureau, challenging the Bureau’s policy of including all U.S. residents in the census count used for apportionment. This case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

Common Cause v. Trump
Common Cause et al., are challenging President Trump’s attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from the state-population totals that are produced by the 2020 Census and used for apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and votes in the Electoral College. This case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

La Union Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) v. Ross
Latino groups filed a lawsuit against Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross challenging his directive to the Census Bureau to collect and produce citizenship data for state-level redistricting purposes. The plaintiffs argue that Secretary Ross’s directive violates the U.S. Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and federal law barring conspiracies to violate civil rights. This case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

National Urban League v. Ross
The National Urban League is leading a coalition of counties, cities, advocacy organizations, and individuals in a challenge to the Trump administration’s decision to abandon the U.S. Census Bureau’s COVID-19 plans and rush the data-collection and data-processing timelines for the 2020 Census. This case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

New York v. Trump
New York and a coalition of 20 states, cities, and localities are challenging President Trump’s attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from the state-population totals that are produced by the 2020 Census and used for apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and votes in the Electoral College. This case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Help Get an Accurate Count

The 2020 Census data collection period, including the self-response window, lasts through September 30th! You can still advertise the 2020 Census in your community during this time. Check out our Shape Your Future: 2020 Census Engagement Toolkit for more ideas on how to encourage your family, friends, and neighbors to fill out the census today!


Additional Resources
Census Series Week 1: Why We Count
Census Series Week 2: Healthcare
Census Series Week 3: Education
Census Series Week 4: Social Safety Net Programs
Census Series Week 5: Businesses & Infrastructure