For states, the 2020 Census is about as high-stakes as it gets, determining not only the number of congressional seats and electoral college votes a state gets, but how much money the federal government sends them in various grants and aid. And California is taking no chances, investing a jaw-dropping $90.4 million to make sure everyone – no matter their native language, citizenship status or location in the Golden State – gets counted.
“When people don’t get counted, they get erased from history,” says state Sen. Richard Pan, chair of the California Senate’s Select Committee on 2010 United States Census. Not only does the state lose cash – about $2,000 per uncounted person, per year, for the decade the census numbers are operational – but medical studies, business marketing, employment and a slew of other priorities are hurt if the state doesn’t know how many people it has, where they live and what they need, Pan says.
A number of states have started work on “Complete Count” committees to ensure their residents are fully tallied, but California has what census and redistricting experts say is by far the most aggressive and extensive effort underway. Part of it is driven by the sheer size and diversity of the state, where at least 220 languages are spoken and 44 percent of residents say they speak a language other than English at home. And part is what officials delicately call “the current climate,” one in which immigrants, both legal and undocumented, are fearful of sharing their personal information with a federal government they associate with deportations and immigration raids.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, five states (Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, New York and Rhode Island) have made moves toward creation of Complete Count Committees. Governors in six states (Alabama, California, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi) have issued executive orders creating some committees. More states are expected to follow as the 2020 Census gets closer.