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SOUTH SALT LAKE — A Utah group is pushing to make sure everyone in the Beehive State is counted as the U.S. census moves largely online for the first time.
"Really what we want to do is make sure everyone knows they matter," said Evan Curtis with the Governor's Office of Management and Budget.
Youngsters, immigrants and college students have long proved difficult to tally in the survey that helps decide how much federal money goes to Utah schools and roads, and how voting districts are drawn.
Now Utah's Complete Count Committee seeks to ensure those who don't have internet or don't trust the new online system still will take part in the 2020 count that takes place a year from Monday. The committee includes state experts in demographics and planning, plus faith and community leaders from across the state.
Utah lawmakers declined to fund the effort in the 2019 general legislative session, so the push will rely largely on a statewide network of volunteers.
"That's something we do especially well in Utah. We're really good at reaching out to our neighbors and making sure that people are OK. That's the type of effort we're really going to need, is everyone making sure that they're talking to their friends, neighbors and of course any community groups that they belong to," Curtis told reporters at the Columbus Library in South Salt Lake.
The preparation comes as the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a possible question about whether a person is an American citizen. President Donald Trump on Monday said the report would be "meaningless" without it, but Hispanic lawmakers and advocates have said such an inquiry will turn immigrants away from filling out the form altogether. A ruling is expected before a June printing deadline for the forms.
Curtis declined to say how the potential question could affect the survey participation in Utah but emphasized that there are safeguards to protect the information a person discloses.
Even though the 2020 survey will be offered online, each household will have the option to respond by phone or mail. At a Monday news conference in Washington, census officers emphasized that their systems are secure and the data will remain confidential.
If we don't have a good census count, that will kind of mess up our planning for the next 10 years. We don't have another opportunity to do a count this big and global.
–Mallory Bateman with the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
The federal government relied on the once-a-decade questionnaire in parceling out about $5.7 billion in Utah in 2016, noted Mallory Bateman with the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. But the data is also important to the state, cities, real estate developers and others planning for Utah's rapidly growing population.
"If we don't have a good census count, that will kind of mess up our planning for the next 10 years," Bateman said. "We don't have another opportunity to do a count this big and global."
For certain hard-to-reach groups, the complete-count group is also planning a social media blitz with the message "You matter. Be counted."
As a senior citizen who doesn't care for the internet and lives in a gated community, 71-year-old Henry Jones is among those the committee wants to be sure to reach. But Jones already has a plan. If he receives a postcard directing him to fill out a census form next year, he will either complete a written questionnaire or seek out help with the online version from the Columbus Senior Center, where he plays pickleball twice a week.
Jones, a retired truck driver who delivered food for Granite School District, is trying to get the word out to others who exercise and socialize at the senior center. He said he prods them to keep an eye out for a card in the mail.
"If you don't do it, nobody will know about it," he said.