The year 2020 may seem far away, but not if you’re involved with the census. Idaho is already preparing.
Required by the U.S. Constitution, the census is held every 10 years and is intended to count the population and identify where people are located. This is important for more than just the bragging rights that Idaho is the fastest-growing state in the Union: Millions of dollars ride on the outcome.
“The 2020 Census is huge,” said Carl Miller, principal planner for the Southwest Idaho Community Planning Association (COMPASS), in Meridian. Census counts are used in the calculation of many federal assistance programs. It’s estimated each person counted brings about $1,200 per year in federal funding to state and local governments, Miller said – amounting to $8.4 billion for the Treasure Valley over the next decade.
COMPASS needs good data to plan future transportation infrastructure, while other agencies use the data to help provide housing, health, education, and other services. “So incorrect counts could mean both less money and less accurate information for using scarce resources,” Miller said.
The census is a federal project, but states need to get involved as well. Idaho is participating in the Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) project, which helps regions ensure they have a complete list of addresses before the census. LUCA materials are being mailed between February and April, said Pete Katsilometes, special assistant to Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter.
Some states worry their populations won’t be counted accurately. In December, the Department of Justice asked the Census Bureau to reinstate a citizenship question on the census. The census is intended to cover everyone, but the department said it was concerned that regions with large populations of non-citizens could skew redistricting results. On the other hand, states with large populations of non-citizens worry that a citizenship question will make non-citizens afraid to participate in the census. Consequently, a group of 20 attorneys general – though not including Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden – has asked the Census Bureau not to reinstate the citizenship question.
In addition, some areas are historically hard to count. Regions that fall into that category in Idaho include rural areas, as well as areas in and near Native American reservations, according to 2020 Census Faces Challenges in Rural America, a December study from the Carsey School of Public Policy, at the University of New Hampshire. This is particularly true for the upcoming census because it is expected to rely heavily on people responding via the Internet, and some rural areas – especially in Idaho – don’t have good Internet access.
Some particularly difficult areas in Idaho to count in 2010 included Blaine County, Nez Perce County, Bannock County, Owyhee County, Fremont County, and Benewah County, due to a low response rate, according to Census 2020 Hard to Count, by the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York.
During a preparatory workshop, Idaho officials learned methods to prevent miscounting, such as how to count and recognize dwellings, and reviewed potential address sources, Katsilometes said.
Once the census is completed, Idaho will need to move on to the next step: The 2021 Congressional and legislative redistricting. Planning for that started as long ago as April 2016. “We’ll start meeting with vendors pretty soon to start reviewing the technological options that will be available for the redistricting commission in 2021, and I’ve been brushing up on my redistricting law,” said Elizabeth Bowen, senior legislative research analyst for the Idaho Legislative Services Office. “But it’s still pretty quiet at the moment.”