Originally published October 15, 2020

Counting for the 2020 Census ends tonight.

If you’re in Los Angeles, you have until 2:59 a.m. early tomorrow morning to complete the form online. If you prefer to mail in a form, that needs to be postmarked by today. English and Spanish phone lines will close at 11 p.m. Pacific Time.

So far, 64.9% of all households in L.A. County have responded to the census on their own.

In the city of L.A., only 58% of households completed the census without help from census workers. Both the city and the county, which is considered one of the most difficult regions to count in the United States, are behind their response rates from the 2010 census.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, census takers have followed up in-person with almost everyone who didn’t respond. The government has claimed a “99.9%” completion rate.

But former Census Director John Thompson suspects that census workers may have relied on shortcuts to get there, such as asking neighbors for information about residents of a non-responsive household, or estimating how many residents live in a certain unit. Those work-arounds, while accepted by the government agency, can create errors in the data.

Normally, the bureau officials would spend six months after the counting is done going over their work and fixing mistakes. This year, the government is rushing to finish that work in only two months — by the end of December.

“To me, that’s scary,” Thompson said. “That could have really serious implications.”

Census advocates, along with some Census Bureau officials, have warned that a rushed census will likely result in an undercount, but overcounts are also a potential problem. Poorer communities of color are the most likely to be left out, while more affluent white communities have a higher risk of being overrepresented in the census data, Thompson warns.

The response period was open for much longer than usual this year due to the pandemic. During that time, some people may have lived in two different households. If they turned in questionnaires from multiple locations, those extra responses must be removed from the total count.

“In this census there could be a bigger problem of overcounts,” Thompson said. “That’s why it’s really important for them to take the time to get the duplicates out of the census.”

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the Census Bureau to end the count earlier than planned after a legal back-and forth. Plaintiffs including the City of Los Angeles sued the government in August, shortly after the Trump administration moved the end date up from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30. A federal judge recently ordered the count to continue to Oct. 31, but the Supreme Court’s decision undid that.

The Federal District Court of Northern California and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals are both still considering whether to extend the data processing part of the 2020 Census.

— CAROLINE CHAMPLIN

This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2020 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.

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