Summit County looks to boost participation in 2020 census after dismal 21% participation in 2010 |

Summit County looks to boost participation in 2020 census after dismal 21% participation in 2010

County Commissioner Elisabeth Laurence explains a graphic showing Summit County with a dismal 21% participation rate in the 2010 census at a census kickoff meeting at the Frisco town hall, June 7. Laurence is spearheading efforts to ensure participation is vastly better for the 2020 census.
Deepan Dutta /

The census is coming. Next year, the federal government will conduct the Constitutionally mandated decennial counting of the nation’s population, as it has done every 10 years since 1790. Given Summit County’s poor track record for participation, community leaders are trying to get a head start on encouraging Summit’s residents to stand and be counted when census day arrives April 1, 2020.

On Friday morning, representatives from every corner of the Summit community fabric met at the Frisco Town Council chambers for the inaugural Summit County Complete Count Committee meeting.

More than 50 people were in attendance, including officials and staff from the county, every town and every post office along with representatives from nonprofits such as the Family & Intercultural Resource Center and The Summit Foundation, health organizations including the Summit Community Care Clinic and St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, major local employers including Breckenridge Grand Vacations, and media and communication organizations including the Summit Daily News and Krystal 93 among other major players.

Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Laurence spearheaded the committee. Laurence said she was motivated to start one of these committees for Summit given what she had discovered about how poorly represented the county was in the last census.

“I became passionate about it after learning how undercounted Summit County is,” Laurence said before revealing that Summit’s participation in the 2010 census was 21%. “We formed this committee because we need some champions for the 2020 census and need to decide how we’re going to do outreach and promotion. Our committee is inclusive of Summit County and represents all of our community.”

Laurence said the committee’s priority was to properly count every member of the community, especially those from underrepresented populations. Children younger than 5, retired and elderly people, transient people, seasonal workers and immigrants are among the most underrepresented people on a typical census, and that makes taking a census in Summit County a challenge.

Julie Frieder, a partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, outlined the official reasons for conducting the census. The census determines how many congressional seats each state gets in order to ensure every citizen is properly represented in Congress. The census also determines whether redistricting is required — for legislative and school districts, for example — to ensure proportional representation.

Finally, the census determines how federal funding dollars are allocated. Colorado receives $13 billion in federal funds each year. Laurence pointed out that in Summit County, those federal funds contribute to everything from the Summit Stage free bus service to wildfire emergency programs, school lunch programs and funding for the Summit Community Care Clinic.

“It breaks down to affect every individual in our community,” Laurence said.

While the committee was raring to get the outreach effort up and running, with many of those in attendance signing up for subcommittees targeting particular demographics for outreach, some significant questions remain about how the census will be administered in the county as well as whether a contentious question about citizenship will affect representation.

The 2020 census will be unique in that, for the first time, it will allow the census to be taken in person, over the phone or online. However, the Census Bureau does not mail surveys to post office boxes, which most Summit residents use to get their mail.

It is unclear at the moment whether people will be able to take the 2020 census online if they do not receive a mailed survey, as the mailed materials may have a code required for each individual to log in before taking the survey.

Even if that causes a lower participation rate in Summit, the Census Bureau will target areas with disproportionately lower participation for the traditional door-knocking approach, with Bureau workers going to each residence in an underreporting area to hand-deliver survey packets.

Citizenship question in limbo

The 2020 census has become controversial because of an effort by the Trump administration to add a question about citizenship. Opponents of the question argue it will result in vast undercounting of the Hispanic community, many of whom already are wary of the current administration’s hardline stance against undocumented immigrants.

In a June 6 article, The Washington Post reported a study by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy that a citizenship question would lead to the undercounting of 6 million Hispanic people in the country. Further analysis based on American Community Survey data projected that more than 200,000 Coloradans, or 3.4% of the population, would be undercounted due to a citizenship question.

The case is heading to the Supreme Court, which will determine whether the question will be added to the census. Regardless of how it plays out, Frieder tried to assure the community that all information submitted to the Census Bureau is strictly confidential under law and that every employee handling census data is required to take a lifetime oath to secrecy.

Frieder also said that the citizenship question could be skipped and the survey still will be accepted as valid. However, if there is a large concentration of skipped questions in an area, the Census Bureau may consider the data incomplete and send out survey takers door-to-door to recover missing responses.

The bottom line, Laurence said, is that Summit residents need to take the census to ensure that the community gets the resources it needs to continue thriving and get better funding for critical programs and services.

“It’s important to make sure that everyone is counted, especially in a place like Summit,” Laurence said. “All of us who live here have seen a lot of growth in the past decade, and we need the numbers to back that up.”

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