It’s Not Too Late! 3 Ways Your City Can Still Get an Accurate Census Count

I know that the importance of a fair and accurate 2020 Census count is not lost on local leaders – but the truth is, with all the challenges that you have been facing since the Census got underway in the spring, it’s been easy for it to fall through the cracks. In many of your communities, you have been battling a global pandemic and responding to demands for change in the wake of social uprisings 

The fact is, the Census data our country is collecting right now, impacts our ability, as local leaders, to effectively support our residents and communities as they manage and recover physically and economically from the pandemic as well as heal and grow from the national movement and discourse on social justice.  

“Vector illustration of the U.S. Census. A hand, as Uncle Sam, has a clipboard and is counting the man unique cultural faces of America.”

With less than 25 days remaining for the Census count and for people to respond to the Census questionnaire. This year’s Census has been a roller coasteryou, your staff, and your partners in the community have worked months longer to get out the count than you ever planned or expected to, and now we’ve reached the phase of counting the hardest to reach, and often most vulnerable, households 

Yet, it is more urgent than ever that we ensure everyone in our communities is counted. There’s $1.5 trillion of federal funding allocated across state and local governments on the line across 316 federal programs, like SNAP, WIC, Medicaid and Medicare. Hospitals and schools also rely on census-derived data.  

Census counts are also foundational for voting systems – electoral district lines for every level of government, from Congress to municipalities to school board districts, use census data to redraw those lines to determine how and who represents us in our local and national governments 

This 2020 Census is perhaps the most important in our life as our communities are having crucial conversations around race, equity and how we dismantle and address historical injustices towards Black, Indigenous and communities of color. The data collected during the Census is key to help remedy these inequities by ensuring these communities are allocated the resources they need to recover and build back equitably.  

The time may seem short, but we can still do this! We have to reach out to our residents – especially those that have been historically undercounted, including families with babies and young children, young people and college students, and Black, Indigenous and communities of color – and continue to emphasize the importance of getting the count right, especially in the wake of COVID.  

I tapped into our census and local democracy team at NLC to get the three best tips for getting your count-out in the next 25 days!  

#1: Now It’s All-Hands on Deck

For many municipalities, staff are dispersed and working remotely but know that your Census team is not the only staff that should be working on the Census. Now is the time to encourage all your staff to help get the message out 

  • Add a reminder to municipal utility bills,  
  • Include a banner on the city weekly email, and add a census reminder and link to to your employees’ email signatures,  
  • Stick posters on office building doors and store windowswork with your chambers of commerce to get the word out, and know that even if a business is closed due to COVID they can still play an important role in their communities, 
  • Ask local church, synagogue, and mosque leaders to talk about the importance of the census in their weekly addresses and encourage people to respond to the census 

Leverage as many people as you can and continue to spread the word far and wide.  

#2: You Don’t Have to Re-Invent the Wheel

Lots of your peers have done some innovative and successful initiatives to ensure that their residents are being counted. In Philadelphia, they created “I Count in Philly” census swag, ranging from hats and washable masks to reusable bags that also have information on registering to vote. 

Philly Counts Census Team group photo

As we practice physical and social distancing to keep each other healthy, car caravans, and parades that drive through low-response neighborhoods have become a popular and safe GOTC event. The City of Mesa, Arizona hosted a “car caravan” drive through historically undercounted communities, like a parade, promoting the Census 



NLC partnered with Sesame Street (yes, Big Bird’s hometown!) to share their Oscar the Grouch census poster for sanitation trucks with our municipalities. I was excited to learn that Decatur, Georgia, added the poster to their sanitation trucks to help carry the message around the city as part of their final stretch GOTC. And, NLC created customizable census fliers, posters, and social media graphics in 11 languages that you can find on our Cities Count webpage 

#3: No unique ID? No problem!

Everyone has had a lot going on the last several months, so it’s no surprise if you ask someone to respond to the census and they tell you they no longer have the official identification number they received in the mail. They only need their address (or even a description of where their home is located if they don’t have a city-style address) to respond to the 2020 Census.  

Through September 30th, people can respond to the census in three ways:  

  1. Go online to – this is the fastest, safest, and easiest way to respond to the census.  
  1. Give them a call at 844-330-2020 – or you can call in one of 12 non-English official languages.  
  1. Drop it in the mail if people have a paper questionnaire at home, they can mail that back and it will be counted if it’s postmarked by September 30th 

The sooner people respond, the better. All households that have not yet responded will have a Census Bureau enumerator come knock on their door. Avoid the door knock – self-respond! 

It takes only 10 minutes and answering 10 questions to ensure that everyone counts for the next 10 years. The data collected during the Census is key to helping remedy historical inequities by ensuring underfunded and underrepresented communities who have also been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic are allocated the resources they need to recover and build back equitably. 

Finally, the work doesn’t end when the count ends. Census data is the foundation we build our house of democracy on. Stay engaged with NLC to learn more about how census data impacts redistricting at the state and local level as well as the federal level. 


About the Author:

Clarence E. Anthony is the CEO & Executive Director of the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter: @ceanthony50.