The U.S. Census Bureau announced this week that it is ending its count efforts a month earlier than expected. That means, amid delays caused by a historic pandemic, the bureau now has less than two months to reach people of color, rural communities, renters and other historically undercounted groups.
Door-knocking efforts, which were set to begin in many areas around the country on August 11, are among the efforts that will be cut short. That involves people called enumerators doing in-person interviews with households that haven’t responded to the census by mail or online.
Additionally, President Donald Trump signed an order last month that would exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count. That memorandum is being challenged in court, and legal experts say the order is unlikely to withstand a legal challenge.
According to the Census Bureau, Oregon’s self-response rate is currently just over 65%. That’s higher than the national average and just short of the final self-response rate of about 67% in 2010.
But Esperanza Tervalon-Garrett, the campaign manager for We Count Oregon, isn’t satisfied with that number. Millions of people were not counted in the 2010 census, and Tervalon-Garrett is concerned that every person who is not counted in 2020 will mean a loss in federal funding and political representation for Oregonians.
Tervalon-Garrett spoke with OPB’s “Think Out Loud” about what these changes to the census timeline could mean for complete count efforts in Oregon. Here are some of the highlights from that conversation:
On how the pandemic has affected the complete count efforts:
“This whole process has really just been … unusual ... But I think that we felt that the October 31st date [the deadline that was initially set for the census count after the pandemic] … was actually an opportunity for us to make sure that we get this right. This count only happens every 10 years. And you know, the folks who were generally left behind are the hard to count communities that our campaign has focused on ... It’s not like those enumerators are going to people who just got the census and took it. They’re going to people who actually are both hard to count and rely most on the federal money that will pay for services that they need.”
On how the shortened timeline will affect the complete count effort in Oregon:
“I think that it is complicated even further by [the U.S. Census Bureau] changing the goalposts… [Counting] was supposed to end just on the 31st of July. Then [after the pandemic], it was moved to October 31st. Now they’re saying September. All of those changes make it hard for people who already are not engaged with this kind of civic participation to do their work. And we’re going to continue to do what we have been doing, and we’re going to continue to really work for as long as we have to make sure that folks know that they can self-enumerate, but that can not and should not be expected to take the place of the government’s responsibility to all of us, as mandated in the Constitution.”
On the Trump administration’s memorandum to exclude undocumented immigrants from the final count:
“I think that this memorandum is just a reminder that this administration is racist and that they do not care about Black and brown people. I think it’s a travesty, and I think it’s really anti-American. … Whether people are able to vote or not is irrelevant to their ability to access and utilize the services in this country. … To turn around and try to violate some of the fundamental underpinnings of democracy is just wrong. And frankly, I wish I was more surprised.”
On how We Count Oregon will respond to the shortened timeline:
“The We Count Oregon campaign is going to continue to do frankly what we’ve been doing. … The challenge is that asking community-based organizations or projects like ours to do the work of the federal government is unfair. The federal government has a responsibility to get out here … to make sure that people understand that this process is happening and how to participate.”
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