Inside Look: 2020 Census Count Question Resolution Process

December 3, 2021

The release of 2020 Census data has allowed cities to examine population, demographic and housing changes within their jurisdictions since the last decennial survey in 2010.

While some are seeing population numbers that match their expectations, others are wondering why theirs are not quite what they anticipated.

So, if a city has cause for concern over its latest population count, what recourse is there to have it investigated and possibly revised?

The U.S. Census Bureau has set up the 2020 Count Question Resolution (CQR) Program through which local elected officials can have their numbers formally reviewed. Cases come in one of three forms: boundary, geocoding or coverage. Each requires specific documentation. Since the 2010 program, the Census Bureau has consolidated geocoding and coverage cases into one category – count cases – based on the assumption that governments might not easily distinguish the two.

A boundary case reviews legal boundaries in effect as of Jan. 1, 2020, and their associated addresses. A count case looks at—for housing and the associated population as of April 1, 2020—errors in either their location within a block (geocoding) or their duplication or exclusion (coverage). Any other cases, such as reviewing an address’ occupancy status, are outside the scope of CQR and will not be considered.

Following the 2010 Census, 16 CQR challenges were brought forth by cities in Georgia (about 6.7% of all cases across the country). Thirteen of them resulted in a change to jurisdiction counts. While this may seem like a high success rate, it is important to recognize the limitations of the CQR process and what to expect (and not to expect) when a case does lead to a correction. For example, any revised counts will be used in subsequent annual population estimates and can be used by cities for future federal funding programs; however, they would not lead to updates of any 2020 Census data products, including redistricting and apportionment data. Initiating a case can require significant resources that your city must be prepared to expend until the case is closed.

 If your city decides to forge ahead with a CQR challenge, act now:

  • Consider the parameters that might’ve contributed to an unexpected Census result, such as reference dates, where people are counted, and year-to-year population changes.
  • Gather detailed data down to the census block to document a potential miscount. At a minimum, boundary cases must be supported by county block maps depicting the potentially correct and incorrect boundaries and the residential addresses affected by the boundary. For count cases, cities must provide a block count list with housing unit and group quarter counts.
  • Review and stay updated on all available information about the 2020 program, including key dates.

The circumstances in which the 2020 Census was conducted were less than ideal. The results do largely align with overall benchmarks, but pandemic-induced delays and other barriers could have impacted data quality in non-trivial ways.

When population is under- or over-counted, it’s not simply an accounting issue. Applications of Census data are far-reaching: it feeds into the redistricting process, which impacts voting power and electoral outcomes; federal funding distributions for programs like Medicare and SNAP; and a variety of policy and business decisions that impact cities and their residents.

A 2019 report by the George Washington Institute of Public Policy found that in FY2016, Georgia received over $23.8 billion in federal spending across 55 programs guided by 2010 Census data.

CQR cases that present compelling, well-founded evidence to amend official data can have a meaningful impact on underlying communities. The Census Bureau will accept cases beginning Jan. 3, 2022, through June 30, 2023, and seeks to respond to each case within 90 days of receipt.  

For questions about CQR or the Census, please contact Claire Chan at cchan@gacities.com.

 This article was originally featured in the November/December 2021 edition of Georgia’s Cities Magazine.

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