This 2018 photo shows an envelope containing a 2018 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation’s only test run of the 2020 Census. (AP Photo/Michelle R. Smith, File)

This 2018 photo shows an envelope containing a 2018 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation’s only test run of the 2020 Census. (AP Photo/Michelle R. Smith, File)

Political angst adds challenges to 1st largely online census

Local organizers are working to dispel fears about privacy and security ahead of the 2020 count.

EVERETT — For those trying to get every person in Snohomish County tallied in the 2020 Census, politics are complicating things.

Members of minority communities worry about sharing their personal information at a time when hate crimes have risen. Undocumented immigrants fear their responses could lead to deportation. People from rural areas ask why they should entrust their stats to a government led by a president who was just impeached. And questions still swirling around foreign interference in U.S. elections have given rise to jitters that Americans’ privacy may be at risk as the U.S. Census Bureau conducts its first-ever primarily online count.

County Community Relations Manager Vanesa Gutierrez, who leads local census outreach efforts, said she’s heard the gamut of concerns from residents about the 10-question survey, which they’ll soon be asked to fill out online.

“Folks are nervous. And I cannot blame them for that,” Gutierrez said.

But she’s assured that their answers will remain confidential. By law, the Census Bureau cannot release identifiable information about individuals, households or businesses — even to law enforcement agencies. Plus, there’s no citizenship question on the form.

She allayed the fears of one undocumented resident by pointing out that the woman shared more information on her Facebook profile than what’s captured by the survey.

The Census Bureau is also taking steps to safeguard responses entered online from hackers and other cyber threats, she said.

Due to funding strains facing the federal agency, local governments have had to take on a bigger role with outreach efforts this year than in the past — particularly in attempting to reach “hard-to-count” communities, such as racial minorities and LGBTQ folks, Gutierrez said.

“We were very nervous about this. We wanted to have our community count. Because we know how important it is,” she said.

The results are used to allot the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives among the 50 states. The data also determines how more than $675 billion in funding, from food stamps to Medicaid and Medicare dollars, are distributed across the country. Every person who isn’t counted in the census means a loss of an estimated $2,000 from the federal or state government, according to the county.

Gutierrez has convened a team of more than a dozen organizations to encourage people to participate. Using $225,000 in grant money from the state, those groups have recruited trusted community leaders — known as “promotoras” in Latin and Hispanic communities — to emphasize the count’s importance.

“We tried to have everyone involved at the table,” she said. “They are the experts when it comes to delivering the message to their communities.”

Distrust in government is the biggest hurdle that some organizers have faced in encouraging participation in the census, said Ben Young, director of grants and marketing for the local Communities of Color Coalition. The rhetoric and policies coming from President Trump’s administration have only exacerbated that wariness among the immigrants and refugees that the coalition supports, he said.

“They see government as not going to do right by them,” Young said. “It may be because of the government that they left. It may be because the treatment that the present government has given them.”

Adding to the list of outreach challenges is this year’s transition to a mostly-online census, Gutierrez said.

Though the Census Bureau is encouraging residents to respond online, the survey can also be taken by phone. Those who don’t submit answers by April 8 will receive a paper copy in the mail.

Many people in the county don’t have internet access. From 2014 to 2018, 8.5% of county households had either no home internet subscription or dial-up only, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

At the national level, critics have expressed concerns that the bureau isn’t prepared for the switch to online.

A February report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found deficiencies in the Census Bureau’s efforts to address potential cybersecurity risks and ensure that its internet systems are ready for prime time. In June, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Inspector General reported “fundamental security deficiencies” in the cloud-based IT systems that will be used to support the census.

In a recent blog post, Census Bureau officials said there are systems and contingencies in place to ensure that the website will continue to run, even if unforeseen circumstances occur. The census has built and tested two secure data collection systems that can be substituted for one another, wrote Census Bureau directors Steven Dillingham and Ron Jarmin. Plus, responses are fully encrypted when they’re entered, transmitted and stored, adding another layer of online security, the post says.

“They are doing a lot of work to make sure that the technology that they are providing and the websites that they are providing are safe,” Gutierrez said of the Census Bureau.

What residents need to know about the 2020 Census

From March 12 to March 20, every household in Snohomish County will get a letter from the U.S. Census Bureau inviting them to fill out a 10-question survey online or by phone.

The survey is expected to take about 10 minutes per person and should be filled out for everyone in the household as of April 1.

Reminder letters will be mailed between March 16 and April 4.

Households that haven’t completed the survey by April 8 will receive a paper copy in the mail.

If a household still does not complete the survey, a census worker will visit the home sometime in May, June or July.

Anyone who needs assistance filling out the survey can get help at any Sno-Isle Library or at the Seattle Goodwill Job Training and Education Center, 210 SW Everett Mall Way, in Everett. Assistance will also be available at a series of events throughout the county starting this week. For more information about those events and the census, visit

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Lynnwood’s car tab fee and utility tax on chopping block again

City Council members will talk about repealing them. If they do, the mayor is prepared to veto their actions.

Most of Compass Health’s clinical employees at the Marysville, Monroe and Snohomish sites will transfer to its Everett locations. (Sue Misao / The Herald)
Lawsuit blames counselor’s ‘unethical’ relationship for Marysville man’s death

Joshua Klick was referred to a counselor at Compass Health. Two years later he was shot and killed.

Smokey Point Boulevard stretch closed for crash investigation

The road was closed between 136th Street NE and 152nd Street NE after a possibly fatal collision.

Doug Ewing looks out over a small section of the Snohomish River that he has been keeping clean for the last ten years on Thursday, May 19, 2022, at the Oscar Hoover Water Access Site in Snohomish, Washington. Ewing scours the shorelines and dives into the depths of the river in search of trash left by visitors, and has removed 59 truckloads of litter from the quarter-mile stretch over the past decade. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Diving for trash in Snohomish River, biologist fills 59 pickup beds

At Thomas’ Eddy, Doug Ewing estimates he has collected 3,000 pounds of lead fishing weights. And that’s just one spot.

Wade Brickman works through a call with trainer Lars Coleman Friday afternoon at SNO911 in Everett, Washington on May 20, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
‘Difference between life and death’: New 911 tech saves vital seconds

Snohomish County is the first in the nation to get the new technology, which reduces delays on emergency calls.

Nuno Taborda
Former Rolls Royce executive to lead Everett aerospace firm

magniX, which builds electric aircraft motors, has hired Nuno Taborda as its next CEO.

Top row (L-R): Rep. Suzan Del Bene, Sen. Keith Wagoner, Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, Rep. Rick Larsen. Center (L-R): Tamborine Borrelli, Bob Hagglund. Bottom (L-R): Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, Rep. Kim Schrier, Mark Miloscia, Sen. Patty Murray.
As filing ends, campaigning shifts into a higher gear

The ballot will feature intraparty battles, election deniers and 16 challengers to a longtime U.S. senator.

In this April 10 photo, drivers head northbound on Highway 99, near the intersection of Evergreen Way and 112th Street where a motorcyclist was fatally struck by a motorist Friday. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)
Mountlake Terrace woman arrested in fatal Everett motorcycle crash

Desiree Morin is accused of hitting and killing a motorcyclist while high on methamphetamine. Bail was set at $50,000.

Marysville to pay $3.5M to former students for alleged sex abuse

The district settled the lawsuit over incidents from the 1980s. Kurt Hollstein remained employed until June 2021.

Most Read