The NAACP is mobilizing organizers and leaders across the nation to encourage Black residents to participate in the 2020 census amid the novel COVID-19 outbreak.
“This census is more important than the 2020 presidential election,” said Casey Thomas II, a Dallas, Texas city councilman. “Once the election is over, this process is going to determine federal resources, congressional seats and the redistricting process.”
In Dallas, where Thomas serves on the mayor’s census committee, there are more than 200 hard-to-count areas. To help ensure accurate enumeration, the city has partnered with school superintendents, fraternities, sororities and community members to inform individuals.
The Census Bureau notes that populations can be hard to count because of several factors including distrust in the government, informal or complex living arrangements, the rapid advancement of technology and constrained fiscal environments.
“In light of what’s going on in the country with this virus — the many people who are losing their lives… — our world will never be the same again, but there will be a post-coronavirus,” Thomas said. “Our challenge is to see what it is that we’ve done today out of necessity that’s going to make us better with how we do what we do tomorrow.”
Because of the pandemic and public safety measures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, community and civic organizations have had to alter their original plans to engage with the community. The Links, Inc., for example, is leveraging social media campaigns to reach people, said Kimberley Jeffries Leonard, the organization’s national president.
“We have asked [the community], since you’re home, take 10 minutes to take the census,” said Leonard. “We also asked members — during this age of COVID-19 — to partner with others who are not so tech or social media savvy.”
Every household will be given the opportunity to complete the survey by mail, telephone, or, for the first-time ever, online, which the Census Bureau has encouraged people to do.
In 2018, the NAACP along with Prince Georges County, Md., and two residents in the county, filed a lawsuit against the federal government to prevent the undercounting of African Americans and other underrepresented minorities in the 2020 Census.
The lawsuit calls out the Trump administration and claims understaffing, lack of leadership, and the “design flaw” of the 2020 census being available online, will most certainly result in undercounting minority populations, who may come from low-income households or have little or no access to the internet.
Only half the households earning incomes less than $30,000 per year have access to broadband Internet, the lawsuit notes, calling the discrepancy a stark “digital divide” in the country.
The NAACP’s lawsuit, which is currently ongoing, requests the federal government make a plan to ensure that hard-to-count populations will be actually enumerated in the decennial census.
“The lawsuit was to push for more spending because the Trump administration was investing less money than required to have a fully functional census operation,” said Jamal Watkins, NAACP vice president of civic engagement. “We are now in a state of emergency with Covid-19, so this should trigger elevated and emergency spending.”
Census responses are confidential and participation is required by law. The count continues through Aug. 14. But Rev. Zena Pierre, senior pastor at Bethel Restoration Church in Largo, Md., expressed concerns about the census phone lines.
“I’ve tested the phone line,” said Pierre. “It’s a long wait to get to a person to talk to. I’ve seen it as long as 45 minutes and some people may not want to wait that long.”
The NAACP has partnered with international geographic information system software company ESRI to distribute 1,350 free ARC GIS mapping licenses to community organizations. The mapping license provides census response rate in real-time. NAACP members and partners can apply for a license online for free. The license can be used to map things such as voter registration goals and voter turnout goals. The license is good through February 2021 and can be obtained through makemyfamilycount.org/mapthecount.
“As we know, it’s not just about being counted, but being heard in November,” Watkins said.
— Mariah Stewart