Fall Gathering: Census 2020 with the Town Clerks

Fall Gathering: Census 2020 with the Town Clerks


2019 Fall Gathering: Census 2020 with the Town Clerks

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

In the opening gathering of the LWVCC at Concord Greene on Wednesday, September 25th, more than 50 people gathered to hear the Town Clerks of Concord (Kaari Mai Tari) and Carlisle (Mary de Alderete) discuss the importance and the impact of the impending 2020 Federal Census. Julie Rohwein, League President, moderated the event. 


Kaari Mai Tari


Julie explained that it is critical to get the 2020 Census right. Census data is the basis for fair political representation, as these data are used to draw district lines reflective of the population. Community leaders use census data to allocate resources, including public safety, planning, and disaster response, education needs, hospitals, assistance for veterans, and transportation. Furthermore, business leaders use the data to make investment decisions.

Julie noted that a citizenship question will not appear on the Census. The National League opposed its inclusion based on the Constitutional language that says we should count all persons—not citizens. The League and many others regarded inclusion of this question as a scare tactic, designed to decrease participation among non-English speaking and immigrant communities. Even without the question, Julie noted that distrust may prevail among vulnerable people, with the potential to decrease participation.

Julie denoted the three phases of the 2020 Census process with opportunities to be involved: 

  1. Education and the community involvement … help to spread the word
  2. Get out the Count … volunteer to be a part of the Census process by becoming a     “Census enumerator”
  3. Watch and report … to assure the reliability of the process 

The Town Clerks began by differentiating between the Annual Census, which is a Town census overseen by the Towns’ Board of Registrars, and the Federal Census, conducted by the Census Bureau.

The Annual Census in Massachusetts is mailed to every household. In Concord these data determine such things as the voting list, taxes, Town information lists, school enrollment needs, and Council on Aging mailing list.

The Federal Census occurs every ten years, accounting for all persons living in the United States and the Territories. This decennial enumeration has been in use since 1790. It is based on residency as of April 1st. This year, each household will receive a paper form and an electronic form to fill out. Some households will receive a second form if they have not submitted the original form either electronically or by mail, but only one will be counted. If no response occurs, a “Census enumerator” will come to the person’s door.

Mary de Alderete


The data collected remain confidential for 72 years. Title 13 of the U.S. Code guarantees this confidentiality. Only an Act of Congress can change the status of the data. This means that neither the FBI, ICE, nor local public safety officers may access the individual data.

Every effort is made to make the data trustworthy because these data are used to draw Congressional and State Senatorial Districts, and to draw local precinct lines for voting. For the Federal Census, college students and boarding school students are registered in their home towns.  The Federal Census impacts the level of federal funding each municipality receives; it is estimated that over $675 billion dollars will be disbursed during the next ten years. The data are central to research, decision-making, and planning for both the public and private sectors.

There are several new aspects of the 2020 Census. Better technologies are available for canvassing and enumerating residences. Satellite images allow Census workers to see all probable residences, while on the ground, workers are helping to differentiate between a shed (unoccupied) and a home (occupied). As well, mathematically rigorous privacy protections, based on “differential privacy” cryptographic algorithms, should prevent access to the data. The Census Bureau has employed hackers to test the system in an effort to ensure that it cannot be hacked.

Fall Gathering Audience


Note: The Census Bureau will never ask for social security numbers, bank account or credit card numbers, or solicit money or donations.  Any person having concern about the legitimacy of a contact or who has any questions should call: 1-800-923-8282 (the Census Bureau).

While it is anticipated that Concord and Carlisle will have an 81%-88% response rate, there remains a local need to assure that every person is counted. Furthermore, it is predicted that Massachusetts may have only a 65% response rate. The League can help to assure a robust state-wide response; please contact Anne Hayden or Ellen Quackenbush at membership [at] lwvcc.org to see how you can help. To learn more about the census and what the League can do, check out the websites below:

LWVUS Census Issue Page: https://www.lwv.org/other-issues/census

LWVUS Census Action Kit: https://www.lwv.org/league-management/voting-rights-tools/census-action-kit

It is fascinating! Citizens can access this data. Diane Proctor.

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