The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has brought huge changes to many aspects of life, requiring improvised ways of doing things. In addition to falling in a presidential election year, the health crisis also coincides with the decennial census in the United States. Although the Census Bureau has adopted technology to make the process easier, some Americans are slow to respond and have to be tracked down as usual.
The pandemic has delayed some of the work of census takers. In the spring, the counting deadline was extended three months until Oct. 31. Traditionally, immigrants are difficult to reach because they naturally fear intrusion by authorities. President Trump has been outspoken about not wanting to count people in the country illegally, although census takers are not allowed to ask about that. The Census Bureau recently announced that it was ending all counting at the end of September, a month earlier than planned, in order to help meet the original census deadline of Dec. 31. However, a month ago 4 out of 10 households had yet to be counted.
All of this is indicative of the challenges in a very unusual year. And next year, there will be a time crunch for redistricting legislative, congressional and other districts before 2022 elections. There certainly is a need for timely results, but the census should be as accurate as possible because so much depends on it, especially in the political realm.
Two Indian tribes, the Gila River Indian Community and Navajo Nation, together with other plaintiffs are part of a federal lawsuit about the earlier deadline, and a judge has issued a temporary order to block the bureau from ending the count early. The tribes face challenges in counting and also stand to lose funding from an undercount. They make a strong point. The restraining order lasts until Sept. 17, when a hearing will be held to further explore the claim. In the meantime, counting will continue.
Nothing about COVID-19 is simple, and neither is the census. Those in charge will just have to find a way to get the job done in the time allotted.