2020 census

Census 2020 is poised to get underway, and the county is ready to make sure every person gets counted, as part of their Get Counted Sonoma campaign.

The census was initially created because the framers of the Constitution chose population to be the basis for sharing political power, not wealth or land. A census aims to count the entire population of a country and at the location where each person usually lives. By law, it happens every 10 years.

The census asks questions of people in homes and group living situations, including how many people live or stay in each home, and the sex, age and race of each person. The goal is to count everyone once, only once, and in the right place.

Federal funds, grants and support to states, counties and communities are based on population totals and breakdowns by sex, age, race and other factors. With more than $675 billion per year in federal funds on the line for schools, hospitals, roads, public works and other vital programs, a complete count is considered vital.

The first results from the 2020 Census in the form of total population counts for the nation and each state will be publically available in late 2020 or early 2021. In 2021 each state will receive their local-level census data on race and the voting age population.

As required by law, the Census Bureau provides this key demographic data to the states so they can redraw the boundaries of their U.S. Congressional and state legislative districts. This data will also be used to potentially redraw local voting districts in places like Windsor or provide data for municipalities moving toward district elections in the future.

Census Timeline

January 21: The U.S. Census Bureau started counting the population in remote Alaska. The count officially begins in the rural Alaskan village of Toksook Bay.

March 12 to March 20: Most households will receive an invitation in the mail, every household will have the option of responding online, by mail or by phone.

March 16 to March 24: A reminder letter will be sent out; online responses begin on March 23.

March 26 to April 3: A reminder postcard will be sent out.

March 30 - April 1: The Census Bureau will count people who are experiencing homelessness over these three days. As part of this process, the Census Bureau counts people in shelters, at soup kitchens and mobile food vans, on the streets, and at non-sheltered, outdoor locations such as tent encampments.

April 1: National Census Day. By this date, every home will have received an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. Once the invitation arrives, individuals should respond for their home in one of three ways: online, by phone or by mail. When you respond to the census, you'll tell the Census Bureau where you live as of April 1. In addition, census takers will begin visiting college students who live on campus, people living in senior centers, and others who live among large groups of people. Census takers also begin conducting quality check interviews to help ensure an accurate count.

April 8 to April 16: A reminder letter and paper questionnaire will be re-sent.

April 20 to April 27: A final reminder postcard will be sent.

May 1 to June 1: U.S. Census bureau staff will follow up in person with subjects who have not responded to the census previously.

December: The Census Bureau will deliver apportionment counts to the President and Congress as required by law.

March 31, 2021: By this date, the Census Bureau will send redistricting counts to states. This information is used to redraw legislative districts based on population changes.

What to expect from census takers

Census takers will be asking basic demographic information, including numbers of household inhabitants, and their ages, genders and races.

In general, people are easily assigned to a residence to be counted, but there can be exceptions. People who live at two or more residences, such as people who travel seasonally between residences (for example, snowbirds or children in joint custody) are counted at the residence where they live and sleep the majority of the time in a year.

If a usual residence cannot be determined, they are counted at the residence where they are staying on April 1. College students living away from home while attending college in the U.S. are counted at the on-campus or off-campus residence where they live and sleep most of the time. Those staying in shelters or living outdoors are counted where they are staying on April 1.

The data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau is strictly for statistical purposes. Household members are never identified individually, and all information is confidential. It is unlawful for any census employee to disclose or publish any information that identifies an individual or business.

This holds for all government and law enforcement entities as well, such as the FBI. The “72-Year Rule” applies: the government is not allowed to release data on individuals for 72 years. All census bureau employees take an oath of nondisclosure and are sworn for life to protect all information that could identify individuals. Any employee who violates the provisions of the oath is subject to a fine up to $250,000 or a prison sentence up to five years, or both. 

In addition, information is protected from cyber security risks, and all questionnaires submitted online will be encrypted to protect the responder’s privacy.

Unfortunately, fraud can occur during the census, so it is important what a census taker will not do. The U.S. Census Bureau will never ask for your full social security number, money or donations, anything on behalf of a political party or your full bank or credit card account numbers.

Field representatives must present an ID badge, which contains a photograph of the field representative, Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date. Census takers will provide you with supervisor contact information and/or the regional office phone number for verification, if asked, and can provide you with a letter from the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau on U.S. Census Bureau letterhead. In addition, they may be carrying a laptop and/or bag with a U.S. Census Bureau logo.

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