FLORENCE — As many as 80,000 people within Pinal County, more than the populations of Casa Grande or Maricopa, could have been left out of the latest census results released earlier this summer, according to analysis by county officials.
That startling figure was brought up by Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer, who presented during a discussion of the potential undercount at the latest Board of Supervisors meeting on Wednesday.
“Our concern is we believe the census did not do Pinal County a solid,” Volkmer said. “We had communities in the midst of a boom that showed a decrease in population. Houses are going up left and right. Anyone who has seen development here knows that belies a commonsense approach.”
Volkmer noted that even in the city of Maricopa, which saw a population increase, the census numbers were lower than estimates.
Despite the possibility of missing up to 20% of the county’s population, Volkmer was candid in his appraisal of what would be a long and costly battle to adjust the numbers. County officials including Volkmer had met with a census consultant who advised them on potential steps to seek redress.
“His assessment was not good for us,” Volkmer said. “The county will essentially have to get the federal government to say, ‘My bad, we screwed up.’”
Paradoxically, the census consultant indicated showing a unified front between municipalities or other counties could actually hurt their case, as it could open the door to nearly any community in the country challenging census results.
Volkmer also said “the ship has sailed” on getting a new apportionment or adding a 10th congressional district within Arizona.
The key, Volkmer claimed, is to show that there were unique situations at the neighborhood or subdivision level.
“That’s how we ‘win’,” Volkmer said.
Although there’s still some uncertainty around specific reasons for the anomalous results, there is a general consensus that lower socioeconomic areas, predominantly non-English speaking, were undercounted in rural Arizona areas, including Pinal County.
The supervisors laughed when Volkmer said the census numbers showed a 10% decrease in undocumented residents coming to Arizona.
Volkmer noted that the census deployed five enumerators from Tucson instead of the expected 12.
Last month, one of the enumerators described a situation to PinalCentral in which transient or semi-permanent residents were counted in a haphazard or superficial manner.
The Pinal board informally agreed to hold another meeting on the census in December, which is when they could possibly act to take part in the Count Question Resolution program. At that point, after more information has been collected, local city or county officials could determine whether challenging the census results is worth the cost. While legal efforts to challenge the census could be expensive, local population numbers can determine funding for needs like schools or infrastructure.
Eloy Mayor Micah Powell spoke briefly before the board, supporting efforts to get an adjusted count.
“There is loss of revenue at stake,” Powell said. “Eloy could lose a million dollars in funding. We feel we did a great job campaigning for the census. So when we got the final numbers — we lost three thousand residents — it was troubling for us.”
The CQR process was bumped back to Jan. 1 of 2022, after which it will be open for 18 months. The Census Bureau is planning to release block-level data to the public before the end of the year.