PD Editorial: Complete the census from the comfort of your own home

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Californians have started receiving their 2020 census participation letters. Don’t let them fall to the bottom of the mail pile. It is everyone’s constitutional duty to be counted when the census comes around every 10 years, and an accurate tally is important for California’s future. Fortunately, completing the census is easier than ever this year.

The U.S. Census Bureau finally has caught up with the 21st century. All Americans can submit their information online. As long the census website doesn’t crash — no guarantee given the government’s technology record — it should be a snap.

The participation letters households receive include unique “Census ID” numbers and instructions for completing the form, which will ask for address, names of everyone who lives there and some demographic details. No questions will ask about citizenship status. Even if you miss the letter, you can complete the form at without a Census ID by answering a few extra questions.

This isn’t the first time that the census has tried online data collection. In 2000, more than 60,000 households completed their forms online in a test run that went well. The Census Bureau wasn’t ready to roll it out nationally in 2010, but now it’s here.

Be on the lookout for fake census letters and sites, though. Dirtbags who would prey on the unsuspecting will try to scam people into sharing valuable personal information on bogus sites. Again, if you aren’t starting at, you aren’t at the right site.

Households that don’t complete the digital form by April 1 will get nagging letters. Eventually, a census worker will show up at the door to collect the information. At this time of social distancing and voluntary isolation, does anyone really want a random visitor on their doorstep who has already visited dozens of other homes? It’s easier to just fill out the form.

Caution about the spread of the coronavirus doesn’t require eliminating all human contact. Check in on elderly family and neighbors in person or by video chat. Maybe they could use a hand with completing the census online. While you’re talking, offer to pick up some groceries or help out in some other small way that can make a huge difference.

Likewise, the small effort of completing the form can make a big difference for California. An accurate count is essential to guaranteeing the state gets what it deserves. If the count misses people, California will lose federal resources because many programs are tied to census results.

There are potential political ramifications, too. An undercount in California could contribute to the state losing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. If a neighborhood, city or county doesn’t count everyone, its clout in the Legislature will be less than it deserves.

So when you open your census letter, don’t look at it with the scorn reserved for one more government form. Rather, see it as an opportunity to do your part to make sure every Californian, including the ones living in your household, counts.

And if you can’t see it that way, just think of it as an opportunity for brief distraction from bingeing streaming videos while you hang out more at home.

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