Once a decade, April 1 is “Census Day,” when every person living in America is supposed to be counted.

In a normal year, that date is more like the beginning of the process than the end. But 2020 has proved to be anything but a normal year.

In mid-March, just when the in-person pert of the operation was supposed to begin, the process was stopped cold to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. These contacts resumed this week, but a full two months have been lost.

The counting is supposed to be finished by July 31, and a final report to Congress is supposed to be delivered by the end of the year. Under the current circumstances, neither date still makes sense if an accurate count matters – and it does. Census data are used to determine everything from the number of representatives a state can send to Washington, to the amount of federal money spent in each district. The counting is done only once a decade, and it should be done as thoroughly as possible.

The Census Bureau has requested a two-month extension on all of its deadlines, and Congress should respond.

In the meantime, there are still things that Mainers can do to make sure that they are included in the count. At the start of the year, every known address where people live was mailed a form that encouraged people to fill out or respond online at the website my2020census.gov. To date, only half of Maine households who were sent letters have responded, which is well below the national average of 59 percent. Minnesota leads the nation, with nearly 70 percent of households responding.


That’s a particular problem in Maine because a relatively high number of people (14.5 percent) live in rural areas, where they get their mail at a post office and not delivered to their homes. Census forms are not sent to post office boxes, so door-knockers have to drop them off in person, a process that was supposed to have begun in March. The more people who fail to fill out their census information on their own, the more pressure is placed on census employees, at a time when extra pressure is not needed.

Following up with people who could have filled out the form themselves will direct resources away from the challenge of every census – enumerating the truly hard-to-count state residents, those who live in poverty and lack the stable addresses that make most people easy to find.

Responding to the census is a civic duty, like voting. This year’s census, like this year’s election, will be different because of the social distancing steps necessary to keep everyone safe.

But the coronavirus hasn’t changed one thing: It’s important to be counted. No one should leave themselves out.

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