Constitution Day event asks, "Why does the 2020 Census matter?"

Posted October 21, 2019

Professor, Matt Filner, speaking and inviting attendee to read the Census information in the U.S. Constitution

“We all count. Will we all be counted?”—the question posed at Metropolitan State University’s 2019 commemoration of Constitution Day on Sept. 19—fueled robust information exchange and dialogue about the 2020 census among more than 40 students, faculty, staff and community members. Associate Professor Adrienne Falcon, Master of Advocacy and Political Leadership program, facilitated the event which included a panel of experts, small group table dialogues, and full group Q&A. The small group dialogues, facilitated by students in Department of Social Science Professor Matt Filner’s class, POL 301: Citizenship in a Global Context who were trained by ICES’s Katie Peacock, provided a meaningful space to raise emerging questions, share powerful personal stories, and practice civic skills.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon opened the event by drawing parallels between the importance of counting every vote in every election (which his office oversees) with counting everyone in our state on the 2020 Census. In fact, Minnesota retained an eighth Congressional seat after the 2010 Census by a very slim margin. Given the rate at which Minnesota is growing compared to other, mostly warm-climate states, our state is at risk of losing a Congressional seat if the 2020 Census significantly undercounts our actual population.

To understand the origins of the Census, Professor Filner pointed to Article I, Section 2 of the US Constitution which states, quite simply: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included in this Union, according to their respective Numbers…. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” This practice has been carried out by authorizing legislation since 1790. Today, the federal Census Bureau operates under Title 13 of the US Code. This code authorizes the Bureau to collect census data and makes it illegal to disclose or publish any private information that identifies an individual or business, including to other government agencies.[i]

Despite these legal protections, Racial Justice and Health Equity Organizer Mónica Hurtado, Voices for Racial Justice, learned that the estimated undercount in her North Minneapolis zip code translated into a loss of nearly $10M in her community over the past 10 years! Hurtado was once among those who are highly skeptical about the Census, until she learned that the Census not only ensures fair representation, but fair distribution of federal resources. For Minnesota as a whole, the 2010 census brings nearly $16B in federal dollars to the state each year for public resources like health care, transportation, education and more. Now, as a leader in the Minnesota Census Mobilization Partnership, Hurtado is actively working to empower trusted community members to break through fears and misinformation in many historically undercounted communities—including immigrants like herself—with tailored, accurate information. This work includes honing key messages to specific cultural communities, identifying the right messengers and communication methods, and offering options for participating in the safest possible way. We learned, for example, that incomplete forms, i.e., without a name and/or phone number, will be counted.

Thanks to Rachel Dame, Census 2020 project manager for the Minnesota Demographer’s Office, everyone who attended the forum learned some fundamentals about how the Census works:

  • watch your mail in March 2020 for notice of a new online option (new in 2020) or a paper form 
  • If the form is not completed by Census Day (April 1, 2020), expect a Census “enumerator” at your door sometime between late April and July
  • The form asks nine simple questions, with space to count everyone in a home, irrespective of citizenship status, age, relationship to each other (non-family household members)

Perhaps most importantly, the panel’s emphasis on the many implications of the census and the importance of reaching disproportionately undercounted communities resonated strongly in small group dialogues. This is no surprise, given that a substantial number of Metro State students and employees identify with these very communities—as renters (the highest correlating variable to an undercount), parents of young children, immigrants, people of color and indigenous people, among others. As one student reflected on this diversity of experience, “I learned that it is important to acknowledge other peoples’ fears and perspectives, rather than staking out my own, as a first step in creating a healthy dialogue.” 

We believe that every voice matters and everyone counts. Metro State Counts. For more information or to become involved in this campus Census 2020 campaign, please contact Jodi Bantley at jodi.bantley@metrostate.edu or 651-793-1294.