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For the first time, a U.S. president will determine how the census is used; see deadline changes here

Posted at 8:13 PM, Oct 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-14 20:19:31-04

NEW YORK — One day and counting is how much time people in the tri-state region have left to fill out the census, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday.

With the announcement, the deadline for completion of the U.S. census went from Oct. 31 to Oct. 15. Still, participation in New York City this year is on pace to be more robust than 10 years ago, which may thwart efforts by President Donald Trump to manipulate some of the results, according to both the director of New York City's census, and a former director of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Julie Menin is the director of NYC Census 2020, which oversees the census effort in New York City. She pointed out at a virtual news conference on Wednesday that, because of time zone differences, people in our region can fill out their census information online until 6:00 A.M. on Friday, Oct. 16, but have to have a paper form postmarked by Thursday, Oct. 15 if completing the census by mail.

It's the result of the Supreme Court ruling Wilbur Ross, et al. v. National Urban League.

New 2020 census deadlines
By mail: Postmarked by Oct. 15 (Thurs)
By phone: Completed by end of day Oct. 15 (Thurs
Online: Completed by 6 a.m. Oct. 16 (Fri)

Mayor Bill de Blasio was highly critical of the court's decision Wednesday.

"It made no sense that the president took a full month off the census process," the mayor said, referring to the president's original order to end the census on Sept. 30.

A lower court ruled that the count could last through the end of this month, but the Supreme Court's decision moved the date up.

"It made no sense that the Supreme Court sided with him," de Blasio said, "but they have, and the deadline is tomorrow."

The mayor said that the more people our region can prove it has, the more federal tax money flows in.

However, it's not at all clear at this point that the Census Bureau, which operates the census, has a precise number of the region's — or the city's — residents.

According to NYC Census 2020, 61.5% of residents have been counted. However, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that it's counted 99.9% of residents, nationwide.

Menin, the NYC census director, said that the national figure is simply inaccurate. She said that a big reason for that are the methods door-to-door census takers are allowed to use.

"The door knockers are allowed," she said, "after they've tried to knock on someone's door and someone hasn't responded, they're legally allowed to speak to a neighbor, or someone they might encounter in the building, and say, 'Do you know how many people live in that unit?' And that person might say, 'One,'" Menin said. "There could be four children in that unit."

She said mistakes like that are why New York City had an undercount of some 1 million children in the 2010 census.

"In addition," Menin went on to say, "after a number of attempts, the federal door knockers are allowed to mark a unit as vacant, even though someone might be living there."

Kenneth Prewitt, the Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs at Columbia University, and the former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, said in a Zoom interview with PIX11 News that there's another reason that the current bureau can claim it's counted everyone.

"They're going to use administrative records," Prewitt said. He elaborated, saying that anything from social security statements to college enrollment information, or other documents can be used by the Census Bureau in the tally that's being cut short.

"It's going to have undercounts, and overcounts, and location errors far beyond what they're capable of finding," Prewitt said,"because they got pushed to end the census too soon."

The pandemic is certainly an unprecedented change to the conditions under which the census is being conducted.

But, there's another new difference in the 2020 census that may have repercussions even greater than coronavirus has had: the Census Bureau will turn in its tally to the president only.

"It's a different world," Prewitt said. "It is one in which the numbers presumably will go to the president privately. That is, not publicly."

Prewitt said that usually, including when he headed up the 2010 census, the bureau releases its findings to both the president and the public almost simultaneously. Without the public release happening at the same time as the release of numbers to the president, Hewitt said, it leaves the president able to play an outsize role in how the numbers are used.

That could possibly affect anything from how many congressional seats are in a region, including ours, to how much federal funding the tri-state receives.

The higher the number of people actually turning in their census information, as opposed to the Census Bureau estimating numbers, reduces second guessing by the White House.

Otherwise, said Menin, "To have President Trump making these decisions in December, is really terrifying."

She reminded people of the ways to complete their census:

  • If people want to phone in their census results, they can call 844-330-2020 by the end of the day on Thursday.
  • They can mail their census form on Thursday, as long as it's postmarked Oct. 15. Some large post offices, such as the Main Post Office on 8th Avenue, across the street from Penn Station, are open late, and can stamp a postmark well into the evening.
  • Online census forms can be filled out at 2020census.gov. The online portal has to remain activated through 11:59:59 on Thursday night — Hawaii local time. That's 5:59 a.m. on Friday in the New York metro area.