Update: Tech problems bedevil census effort

Participation remains low as Oct. 5 deadline looms

Editor’s note: This article was updated 3:35 p.m., Sept. 29 to reflect new information announced by the Census Bureau.

As the deadline for the U.S. census approaches, technical difficulties have left many Cordova residents uncertain whether they’ve been counted once, twice or not at all. Counting efforts, including door-knocking campaigns as well as response collection online and by phone, are scheduled to terminate Monday, Oct. 5, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said.

Cordova City Councilman David Allison said that he participated in the census early, not using a census ID number. Later, Allison received a card inviting him to participate in the census, including a census ID number but an inaccurate version of his address. Allison filled out the form again, using the census ID and the inaccurate address.

“I’m assuming it’s in there at least once, maybe twice,” Allison said. “My point is, if you filled it out early on, it may not have taken. I think maybe we should just tell everyone to fill it out again, whether they have or not, and get those numbers up.”

Vice Mayor Melina Meyer said that she promptly responded to the census, only to receive notifications indicating she had not yet participated.

“I felt like I was prepared and knew how to fill it out,” Meyer said.

Other community members reported having filled out online census forms six or more times, only to continue receiving notifications indicating they still hadn’t participated. Cordova census workers said they had reported these issues to Juneau Census Bureau officials.

However, census takers will sometimes visit households multiple times, even though the residents have already responded to the census, to verify information about the address, bureau media specialist Durán Pacheco said. If an individual responds to the census twice using two different versions of their address, only the response using the address corresponding to the individual’s census ID will be accepted, meaning that that individual will not be counted multiple times, she said.

“Census takers are not going out only to interview people,” Durán Pacheco said. “We’re also verifying addresses to make sure that the people are counted in the right place.”

City Councilwoman Anne Schaefer suggested opening a booth at the Cordova Center where community members could fill out census forms and ask questions in person. The city has contacted the Census Bureau about the possibility of setting up an in-person census-taking booth, City Manager Helen Howarth said.

Contrary to previous statements by a Census Bureau spokesperson, bureau officials said Tuesday, Sept. 29 that the public  cannot verify whether they have participated in the census by phoning the bureau’s offices.  While it is possible to fill out the census by phoning the bureau’s offices, the only way to confirm participation is by filling out the census online at www.2020census.gov, after which process a confirmation number is provided, bureau media coordinator Donald Bendz confirmed.

Cordova’s registered census response rate has consistently fallen short of state and national rates, and of Cordova’s rate in the 2010 census. As of Wednesday, Sept. 23, Cordova’s census self-response rate stood at 46.6 percent, of which 26.1 percentage points represent households responding online and 20.5 percentage points represent households responding by mail or phone. This compares to statewide response rate of 53.8 percent, which places Alaska last among U.S. states, but ahead of the territory of Puerto Rico. Cordova’s final response rate in the 2010 census was 61.2 percent.

“It is so critical to our community that we have as close to 100 percent participation in the census as we possibly can,” Howarth said. “We’re not even at 50 percent. We really, really, really need to engage.”