2020 Census ends abruptly after Supreme Court ruling


After an unusual year, the 2020 U.S. Census count is officially over.

A Supreme Court ruling on Oct. 13 put an end to an extensive legal battle over this year’s census count schedule and how long the survey should remain open. 
THE END After a recent Supreme Court ruling the 2020 U.S. Census count ended on Oct. 15. - IMAGE COURTESY OF THE U.S. CENSUS BUREAU
  • THE END After a recent Supreme Court ruling the 2020 U.S. Census count ended on Oct. 15.

The Trump administration initially proposed an extension of the census deadline in April in response to unforeseen challenges and delays in the count brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. But after the administration abandoned that plan in July and attempted to move the deadline up to Sept. 30, a federal judge ordered on Sept. 24 that the census activities resume through Oct. 31.

Hours after the Supreme Court suspended that lower court order on Oct. 13, ruling in favor of the Trump administration, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that it would stop accepting responses to the once-a-decade survey online and over the phone on Oct. 15 at 12 p.m. Hawaii time. Oct. 15 is also the postmark deadline for mailed paper forms and was the last day for door-to-door collections.

“It basically is just over now,” San Luis Obispo County Administrative Analyst Kristin Eriksson told New Times.

The count’s abrupt end was both concerning and expected among many Central Coast officials. This year’s census was shrouded in political battles before it even started. The Trump administration’s 2019 push to put a citizenship question on the survey led to concerns that hesitancy to respond among immigrant communities could lead to inaccurate counts. Then in March, COVID-19 hit, which Eriksson said brought all the usual in-person outreach activities to a halt.

In-person counting in SLO County didn’t start until August and then on Sept. 25, U.S. Census Bureau closed its Central Coast regional office in Ventura, leaving the area with few, if any, census workers to canvas local neighborhoods.

Some neighborhoods, especially in Santa Barbara County, are difficult to count. Santa Barbara County Complete Count Committee member Joni Maiden said that language barriers and a lack of internet, computer, and phone access can make it challenging for some Santa Barbara County residents to complete the survey online.

Santa Barbara County did what it could to pivot at the outset of the pandemic, but Maiden said an undercount is quite likely. Communities that are undercounted could lose federal funding and legislative representatives for 10 years.

As of Oct. 16, data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that roughly 69 percent of SLO County residents self-responded to the census this year, up slightly from 2010. Roughly 72 percent of Santa Barbara County residents self-responded to the 2020 Census.

“There’re just so many things that are based on the population count,” Maiden told New Times. “That’s why it’s important to get a true count.” ∆
—Kasey Bubnash

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