Summit County is ramping up efforts to count every resident during 2020 census
In 2000, Utah missed out on a fourth congressional seat by 81 people following that year’s census.
That seat went to North Carolina, despite multiple lawsuits, and Utahns had to wait 10 years for what the state deemed its fair share of representatives.
The decennial U.S. Census does more than just apportion the 435 congressional seats, though that carries obvious importance. It determines, in part, how nearly $1 trillion in federal funds will be distributed, influences how legislative districts will be drawn and provides important information about Americans and where they live.
The next census will be taken next year, and Summit County is ramping up its efforts to make sure everyone is counted.
The Summit County Complete Count Committee (CCC) met in Coalville July 3 to discuss outreach strategies and devise a gameplan to increase participation within the county. The group included representatives from the League of Women Voters in Utah, County Councilor Glenn Wright and the county’s Economic Development Director Jeff Jones, who has been spearheading the issue for the county.
Jones stressed the importance of the $800 billion in federal funding “for services like schools, fire departments, and hospitals” that will be doled out nationwide after the census.
“All of us — from community members to state and local leaders — have an enormous stake in ensuring the accuracy of the count,” Jones wrote in an email to The Park Record. “Summit County will be looking for partners in North Summit, South Summit and the Snyderville Basin to help us further the Census 2020 effort.”
At last month’s Council of Governments meeting, League of Women Voters unit leader Jill Lesh said her group learned about the census organizers’ push to form census committees and said the organization was “really excited” about the idea.
“Governments, nonprofits, civic organizations, all the stakeholders: We can get involved, educated and informed to go back to (our) communities to help them understand the deep importance of the census,” Lesh said.
She asked the assembled East Side mayors at the meeting for help accessing “hard-to-count” populations, which are a particular target of outreach efforts. Approximately 8 percent of Summit County residents, or 3,116 people, live in hard-to-count neighborhoods, according to the census data.
Meredith Reed is the chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and a member of the League of Women Voters and was recently hired to be a partnership specialist for the census. She’s off to a weeklong training session in Dallas Monday, July 8, and said the Summit County CCC is working hard to flesh out an organizational strategy and contact list to reach as many people as possible.
One of the most important parts of the process, Reed said, especially among Hispanic communities, is building the understanding that census date is confidential, and “how seriously that’s taken.”
“It’s a felony for anyone who works for the census to release any of the data. It’s not released to any other federal agency, not the FBI, not ICE,” Reed said. “It’s easy for me to sit here and say that, but maybe there’s someone who has an undocumented member of their household … (for whom it would be) understandably risky to answer the question.”
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled against a Trump administration attempt to put a citizenship question on the census, though the president said Friday the administration has not abandoned the attempt, possibly in an added questionnaire.
Jones, the county’s point-person for the census effort, said at last month’s meeting census field offices were supposed to have been set up around the country by January, but that had yet to happen. And in last year’s budget, state legislators opted not to allocate money for the census effort, Jones said, though it is considering doing so before Census Day next April.
The CCC is brainstorming ways to access hard-to-count communities, like partnering with Holy Cross Ministries, a nonprofit that works with minority populations, attaching notices to mailings that already go out to county residents, like water bills, and working with other school and community organizations to get the word out.
“The whole census effort requires sustained outreach effort, whether it’s hard-to-count communities (or elsewhere),” Reed said. “During the last census, Utah only had 75 percent participation. That’s not good, that’s bad. How do we change that?”
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