WASHINGTON, D.C. – The traditional Sept. 30 deadline for the U.S. Census has come and gone, but the once-a-decade headcount of U.S. residents continues thanks to a flurry of recent court orders.
Here in Utah, 99.9 percent of households have already been counted. About 70.8 percent of those residents responded to the 10-item Census questionnaire online or by mail. An additional 29.1 percent of households were counted by Census field workers during recent face-to-face visits conducted using precautions intended to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
With an estimated 701,281 households in the state, that means that only about 700 Utah households remain to be counted. A recent ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals gives Census officials until Oct. 31 to contact those residents.
The 2020 Census has been plagued with delays and conflicting orders since early spring.
The national headcount kicked off in March. Within days, the coronavirus broke out, forcing Census officials to postpone many phases of their planned operations.
Every 10 years, the Census produces population data that is used to determine each state’s share of the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, votes in the Electoral College and federal funding allocations.
After initially notifying Congress that the Census data would be delayed, the Trump administration ordered the Census Bureau to speed up its field operations and confirmed a deadline of Sept. 30 for ending the headcount.
But U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh quickly issued an order suspending that revised deadline nationwide. Koh’s order said that the administration’s efforts to abruptly conclude the Census risked an inaccurate tally of historically undercounted groups, including people of color and immigrants.
The Trump administration responded by appealing Koh’s order to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and setting a new deadline of Oct. 5 for ending the headcount.
But a three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit upheld Koh’s ruling by extending the Census deadline to Oct. 31.
“Given the extraordinary importance of the census, it is imperative that the Bureau conduct the census in a manner that is most likely to produce a workable report in which the public can have confidence,” according to Circuit Judges Johnnie Rawlinson and Morgan Christen. “The hasty and unexplained changes to the Bureau’s operations contained in (the administration’s plan), created in just 4 to 5 days, risks undermining the Bureau’s mission.”
Circuit Judge Patrick Bumatay dissented from that opinion and Trump administration lawyers are weighing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Census Bureau officials are meanwhile complying with the 9th Circuit Court ruling.
“As a result of court orders, the Oct. 5 target date (for the conclusion of field operations) is not operative and data collection will continue through Oct. 31, 2020,” they wrote in a message to all Census workers on Oct. 2. “Employees should continue to work diligently and enumerate as many people as possible.”
Census officials estimate that only about 30 households remain to be counted in Cache County.