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ANOTHER VIEW: In a year with historic challenges and changes, Virginia needs a strong census finish

ANOTHER VIEW: In a year with historic challenges and changes, Virginia needs a strong census finish

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The 2020 census process has looked nothing like years past.

First, the mail no longer is the primary method for households to complete their forms, as new online and phone options have been added. More than 70% of Virginia households have self-responded, which is tied for seventh highest among all U.S. states.

Of those that self-responded, 57.6% used the internet. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, imagine if the online option had not been planned.

Second, the coronavirus pandemic heavily disrupted field operations. Despite the pandemic, around 22% of Virginia households have been reached through “nonresponse follow-up” — old-school engagement with a census taker. We applaud the workers who have visited homes in recent weeks to close gaps in participation. After years of doing so with ease, no one could have known that knocking on front doors would require so many precautions.

With just two weeks to go until the end of counting efforts on Sept. 30, more work remains to be done. In a year with historic challenges and changes, Virginia needs a strong census finish.

Even the smallest undercount can carry serious costs. Each person not captured in the 2020 census is a loss of $2,000 per year over the next decade. Despite the commonwealth’s fast start with self-responses, nearly 1 in 10 addresses still have not been recorded.

In 2010, Virginia’s undercount was an estimated 44,300 people, affecting funding for critical programs and congressional representation.

So much work has been done by the Virginia Complete Count Commission and dozens of local complete count committees and partner organizations across the state. And several factors involving the census are out of the commonwealth’s control.

Earlier this month, a leaked internal U.S. Census Bureau document intended for members of Congress warned of the consequences of having a truncated census calendar.

During the past three survey cycles, the bureau took 140 to 185 days to process its data. This year, that timeframe only is 92 days.

“A compressed review period creates risk for serious errors not being discovered in the data — thereby significantly decreasing data quality,” the document said, according to NBC News.

The census is worth every bit of painstaking attention to detail. But time is short, and regardless of any federal dysfunction ahead, Virginia deserves a more complete count than the last time around. We hope the local efforts shine through.


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