The Countdown to the Next New Jersey Census

A commission headed by Secretary of State Tahesha Way will aim to maximize census participation in March 2020.

Tahesha Way serves as New Jersey’s 34th secretary of state. An attorney, she lives in Wayne with husband Charles Way (the former football Giants running back) and their four children. Courtesy of New Jersey Office of Information Technology

As New Jersey’s 34th secretary of state, Tahesha Way has plenty on her plate. The Wayne resident leads the offices and agencies that invest in the Garden State’s arts, culture, heritage, history, travel and tourism initiatives. She also oversees our elections and, as of January, serves as chair of a 27-member Complete Count Commission charged with building awareness of next year’s U.S. Census.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government must conduct a population census every 10 years; the next census takes place in March 2020. Much is at stake for New Jersey in the census results, including billions in federal aid and the size of our delegation to the House of Representatives.

A complete count means that everyone in New Jersey is counted once and in the right location. That would make a significant difference in New Jersey’s share of federal funding and assure fair and accurate representation. 

“In a state like New Jersey, where we send more of our tax dollars to Washington than we receive in return, a complete count would ensure that we could get the maximum federal funding available for the programs that people in New Jersey need,” says Way. “For example, the top 55 federal programs represent $22.7 billion in investments in New Jersey and our residents. A complete count would ensure that New Jersey residents could continue to benefit from these programs.”

Unfortunately, in the current political climate, some census advocates and community leaders have expressed fear that anti-immigrant rhetoric could discourage some families from completing the census. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked an attempt by President Trump to include a citizenship question on the census—but that might not be enough to convince all residents of the state that it’s safe to submit their household information to the federal government.

To support the complete-count effort, the commission, the Census Bureau and various advocacy groups are recruiting locally trusted voices, such as school board members and faith leaders, to carry the message to their communities about why it’s important to participate in the census. Much of the focus will be on hard-to-count areas where the self-response rate has been less than 70 percent.

The Complete Count campaign kicked off April 1 with a statewide One-Year-Out tour. Way has also formed advisory committees and enlisted the support of all of the state’s departments to increase awareness of and engagement in the census.

All of these outreach initiatives will continue this winter into the spring. By mid-March, every household in New Jersey will have received mail from the U.S. Census Bureau asking them to respond to the census via phone or the Internet. Those who do not respond will receive a follow-up letter. 

“We want and need our residents to know that the census is safe, easy and important,” says Way. “You can save yourself time by responding to the census as soon as you receive the letter in mid-March. In mid-May, census workers will go out and knock on doors to get responses from those who have not responded. It is even easier to respond to [the 2020 Census] because there is an Internet option, so our hope is that people simply respond immediately upon receiving the letter.”  

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