Even though the 2020 Census is next year, the fight to count everyone in the United States is well underway, and in Illinois, a complete and accurate count is more important than ever.

Every ten years, when the Census is carried out, our government has a much harder time counting people of color, children, immigrants, and people living in low-income or rural communities. This results in a so-called “undercount” – when the number of people counted in an area is lower than the number of people that actually live there.

Illinois is at great risk for an undercount. The effects of such an undercount could be devastating for residents across Illinois.

If we don’t accurately count every resident, Illinois stands to lose billions of its fair share of federal dollars that fuel our communities across the state. The healthcare clinic school down the street may close, and even if they manage to keep their doors open, the quality of doctors may decline. The highways and parks in our neighborhoods may be taken care of less often and fall to the wayside. If a tornado hits Illinois, the state might not have the money to offer us the support we need, like food and shelter.

Our congressional representation is also at risk. The number of seats a state has in the House of Representatives is determined by its population. Illinois has lost a congressional seat in each of the last several censuses. This time, Illinois may lose two, bringing the number of Illinois representatives in the House down to just 16 from the current 18. This directly affects the number of votes Illinois has in the Electoral College. In other words, a big undercount has big consequences for the weight of Illinois’s voices in the halls of Congress and during presidential elections. 

With stakes that high, we can’t allow a census that isn’t fair, accurate, and inclusive, but the odds are stacked against us. The federal government has spent years underfunding the census and its development, so it is going to be almost impossible to count everyone. The Trump administration’s choice to add the citizenship question to the census — over the objection of career census experts — is sure to result in fewer people responding.

Everybody wants their voice to be heard. That’s why Common Cause members are stepping up and speaking out to demand a fair and accurate Census — to ensure that we can all have an equal say.

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