Local officials are getting some extra days to encourage people to get themselves counted by the 2020 Census, after the U.S. Census Bureau said Monday it would end its counting operations on Oct. 5.
Winston-Salem officials held a news conference Wednesday to make a bottom-of-the-ninth appeal for people to make sure they've been counted, when it appeared as though Sept. 30 was the last day for counting.
The following day, a U.S. district court judge in California granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit that allowed the count to continue to Oct. 31. Or so it seemed. On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said that there’s a “target date” to wind up on Oct. 5 despite the court order.
The Associated Press reported that the new deadline didn’t necessarily violate the court order because that order had only suspended the Sept. 30 deadline.
In Winston-Salem, almost 62% of households have self-responded to be counted in the 2020 Census, down from almost 68% when the counting was done in 2010. In Forsyth County, 65% of households have self-responded, compared to about 68% in 2010.
The Census Bureau does its own checks on households that did not self-respond, in order to complete the count: About 89% of the households in the greater Winston-Salem area that did not self-respond have now been checked.
Aaron King, the director of planning and development services for Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, said the city and county are trying to get the word out about being counted whenever people encounter their local government.
That includes everything from social media and print advertising, to checks with people as they visit local agencies.
"When people come in for COVID testing in the health department, we help make them aware of the Census as well," King said.
Taken every 10 years, the main purpose of the Census, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution, is to determine how many representatives each state gets in the U.S. House.
Because states grow at different rates, the number of representatives each state gets is adjusted every 10 years.
North Carolina lost ground in the mid-1800s as many people migrated west, and its House delegation shrank from 13 in 1830 to seven on the eve of the Civil War in 1860. The state slowly regained ground over the following decades and reached 12 representatives in 1940 before slipping back to 11 from 1960 to 1980.
Since then, with the boom in Sun Belt growth, the state has gone from having 12 members of Congress in 1990 to 13 in 2000 and 2010. The state has been widely seen as possibly gaining what would be an all-time high of 14 representatives once the results of the 2020 Census are known.
The Census is also used as the basis for determining the flow of federal dollars for a wide variety of purposes.
And the Census even goes into determining who represents you on the Winston-Salem City Council.
Every 10 years, when the numbers are in, the city goes through the process of adjusting ward boundaries so that each has about the same number of people, King said.
It might seem counterintuitive, but wards that are fast-growing get smaller, while wards that are growing more slowly or declining get larger. A slower-growing area needs to expand to take in more ground, and more people, so that its population matches the number in the shrinking but faster-growing wards.
Although city officials can't say whether a new legal ruling might change the date again, that might not change the city's plan.
"We are going to keep on going until someone tells us to stop," said Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines.
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