Campaigning in the Time of COVID

 

By Dawn DeSart
DuPage County Board Member
and ACE Leadership Team Member

 

Running for political office during normal times is exhausting, exhilarating work. There are doors to knock and neighbors to meet. There are forums and debates and places to go meet the voters “where they’re at.” You’re shaking hands and hugging friends who host neighborhood meet-and-greet coffees for you. You’re up in the dark hours of the morning meeting commuters at the Metra train stations. As a candidate, you are quite literally “pressing the flesh” at every opportunity.

Then a hundred-year global pandemic strikes, and you are told to stay home, avoid crowds, and keep yourself six feet away from other people. But how does a candidate campaign for political office by avoiding people? How can candidates get their message across to voters while social distancing? The challenges are great. The opportunity for creative networking must be even greater.

‘There is nothing more important right now than the election,” says Thomas Craighead of the Naperville League of Women Voters. “Whether it’s the national election, the local election, or your own personal election, this is an important moment in our history.”

Most of the local campaigns are organizing at-home phone banks to get their messages out by calling voters. “Days of Action” include lit drops by campaign volunteer workers. Gone for now are the days when volunteers walk door-to-door, ring the doorbell, hand the voter literature for their candidates, and speak to voters about their preferred candidates. In these days of COVID-19, volunteers must now just do a lit drop, dropping off candidates’ literature at the doors of voters, and hope that the voters take the time to read the literature, rather than dumping it directly into the recycle bin. Face-to-face selling a candidate is—for now—a thing of the past, in most cases.

“COVID-19 has changed how candidates reach constituents,” acknowledges Cynthia Borbas, Democratic Party of DuPage County (DPDC) chairwoman. “Previously, there was a heavy focus on conversations at people’s doors. Some candidates are still attempting to go to the doors and having conversations while socially distancing and wearing masks, but some candidates and volunteers are nervous to do that, and many neighbors are also concerned when people are at their doors during COVID.”

Ken Mejia-Beal is a candidate for Illinois state representative in District 42. Mejia-Beal is one of the few candidates still knocking on doors, despite the pandemic, “I’m wearing a mask but I’m still going door to door. Wearing a mask is challenging. In year’s past (when I’ve campaigned), during the summer months, I’d go knocking on doors no matter the heat. This year, wearing a mask makes it feel hotter, and I had to cut back on door knocking if it’s over 80-degrees. It just gets too hot. But if I can’t go door to door, I am phone banking, always trying to reach voters. And because there are still people afraid to open the door, even to someone wearing a mask, I try to stay connected (to voters) through lots of emails.”

Despite COVID-19, or more accurately, because of COVID, Mejia-Beal has re-discovered the beauty of human contact. “When I go door to door and talk especially to senior citizens, I find that a lot of people haven’t spoken anyone…no one…but maybe their mail carrier since March,” says the candidate. “A lot of people out there are so incredibly lonely. Too many have no one.”

Mejia-Beal recalled an incident that happened while he was out campaigning. “I was talking with one lady, when halfway through our conversation, she started crying. She hadn’t spoken to anyone since March,” he says. “She has no kids and her husband died last year. She was alone. Completely alone. I was the first person she had spoken to in months! It brought her to tears.”

Many other candidates are avoiding knocking on doors altogether during this period of social distancing.

“We are trying to find any silver lining possible during this pandemic,” says Lynn LaPlante, candidate for the DuPage County Board, District 4. “For example, the fact that I had the virus in March, was quite sick, but have recovered—what a thing to be grateful for! The same comes to campaigning during a pandemic—I’m looking for the silver linings and reasons to be grateful.”

 

Most candidates in this election cycle agree that campaigning ‘ain’t what it used to be.’

 

Some candidates are also facing the reality of remote learning for their school-aged children and having to be home to monitor their progress.

“I have four school-aged kids at home, and while campaigning as a Mom is definitely a challenge, I am grateful most of the work can be done remotely from home,” said LaPlante. “I can be here working on my campaign, while also helping my kids with their e-learning. I can make dinner in between zoom calls, and then, we can sit down to eat together as a family, since I am not out driving to deliver a speech. Instead, I can give a candidate speech into a camera downstairs, and just walk upstairs to read a book with my youngest as I tuck her in and be there to help the older kids with their homework. I am focusing on these silver linings while we all navigate these uncharted waters. Campaigning during these times just adds an extra layer of uniqueness.”

“The challenge for me is shifting to digital,” says Amy Chavez, candidate for the DuPage County Board, District 5. “It’s a challenge using FaceBook and the website videos, figuring out how you can make a true, personal connection with voters without seeing people face to face. Everything has shifted to digital.”

Chavez and DuPage County Forest Preserve, District 5 candidate Barb O’Meara are teaming up for many events to reach voters. On September 16th, they hosted a Zoom fundraiser together, with special guests Congressman Bill Foster of Illinois’ 11th District and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood of Illinois’ 14th District. The event was a success with nearly 30 voters at the virtual fundraising event.

“I’ve been helping folks, and they are making more phone calls (this year),” says Illinois State Representative Stephanie Kifowit, of the 84th District. Kifowit does not have an opponent this election cycle, but she says that when volunteers are knocking on doors, they step back, “and are standing more than six feet away to talk to people.”

Most candidates who have run for an elected position or have walked door to door for other candidates previously say they miss the people, and the opportunities in the past that have allowed them to meet voters.

“COVID-19 has changed the campaign plan I had because I want to always put residents’ health first. Therefore, we are mostly just lit dropping and missing out on talking to people to find out their concerns or questions,” says Paula Deacon-Garcia, candidate for DuPage County Board, District 2. “I am relying on feedback on social media posts and having people share with their friends to get my name known. Also, fundraising has been tricky. (Candidates at all levels need funding) to pay for literature, and I do not want to burden people already struggling during these difficult economic times. So Zoom meetings, literature drops, and social media is 2020 campaigning.”

Jeff Jacobson, is a candidate for 18th Circuit Court Judge in DuPage County. Jacobson has been given a unique opportunity to get name recognition during his campaign for judge. He’s been invited to be an expert legal analyst at various Chicago media outlets. “I have been using webinar software to campaign,” says Jacobson. “It allows me to spend time with voters safely. Also, I have been fortunate to be a guest on air on NBC, ABC, and a couple of times on the WBBM Business Hour.”

Most candidates in this election cycle agree that campaigning “ain’t what it used to be.”

“There has been a shift in our campaigning to rely more heavily on postcards, letters, lit drop, texting, phone banking and social media,” says DPDC Chair Borbas. “All these approaches can be personalized and targeted, so while we aren’t necessarily having those face-to-face connections, we are still connecting with voters on the issues that matter with a personal touch.”

“The challenges, of course, are the limitations on direct interaction with voters,” says Bill White of Downers Grove, candidate for DuPage County Auditor. “For example, I love campaigning in the crowds that gather at Metra stations for the morning commute to work. But with COVID-19, that’s not safe, and Metra ridership has been massively reduced. Knocking on doors is more problematic. Some people are perfectly okay with talking with canvassers, but you never know if an elderly person or someone with a compromised immune system is at a particular house. The last thing we want to do is inadvertently spread the virus.”

“Because of this, I am spending a lot of time dropping literature, in coordination with other candidates,” White continues. “Our literature bags typically include cards from seven, eight, or nine candidates, so we are in effect endorsing each other. Our message is simple: ‘Vote blue on the entire ballot’.”

“Because of these unprecedented times when it’s become more difficult to meet voters personally, candidates are counting on supporters to get their message out to even more people. Those involved in the democratic organization have been incredible in urging friends who vote,” says Jacobson. “The major challenge is not being able to personally meet voters. Voters want to personally meet the candidates.”

“As we head into the final weeks, I very much hope that all Democratic candidates and campaigns will support each other, especially given the challenges we all face,” says White. “Hopefully, we can all demonstrate that we take the virus seriously; we all understand the need to be creative; and we are committed to working as a team.”

 


Dawn DeSart is a member of the DuPage County Board representing District 5. She has spent her career as a journalist working in every field: newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. While at NBC5 in Chicago, Dawn earned five Emmy Awards for excellence in journalism. A graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato, she has a bachelor’s degree in mass communications.

 

Flatten the Fear?

By Beverly George
ACE Leader

This essay begins with a friend-of-a-friend story.

My friend shared a conversation with me she’d had with one of her friends who declared with confidence and determination that she had decided she was not going to “live in fear” during the pandemic. This fearless over-70 woman further said she thought the number of COVID-19 cases was inflated and, therefore, not reliable. While she didn’t say the pandemic was a “hoax,” she did feel it was overblown in the media, and she was determined to live her life more openly. She even mentioned the recent massive infections on college campuses, noting that she hadn’t read of any students dying yet. I found that to be an extraordinarily low bar for a measuring stick.

This virus, SARS-CoV-2, does not follow any country’s national politics. Sadly, no one can will it away with dogged determination. Anyone deciding not to live in fear and to step headlong into crowds without protection or forethought will expose themselves to the virus, and one day that exposure will come with a viral load large enough to infect her. The infection may or may not manifest itself in the disease COVID-19. The worst outcome? It would be an asymptomatic case, where that person—feeling fine—would silently spread it to others at home, at work, or in their daily routines.

Infection will probably happen if that person does not practice proper mask-wearing, social (physical) distancing, or hand hygiene. Unwittingly spreading it to others demonstrates zero understanding of potential infection they will have opened into their community. Eventually, one of these subsequent infections could result in severe infection, long hospitalization, or even death for innocent people in the community. We all bear responsibility in this crisis, and we cannot shrug it off.

Around Naperville, there are many voices urging us to return to our previous, normal interactions. There is an electronic sign on the east side of Washington Street going south from Ogden Avenue. It flashes two alternating messages: “Flatten the fear” followed by “Save lives and livelihoods.”

This sounds like a Chamber of Commerce message, not a public health message.

Curious about the message, I googled “Flatten the fear.”

The Flatten the Fear (FTF) website shows it’s part of the Job Creators Network Foundation (JCN), a conservative U.S. advocacy group founded by Bernie Marcus, co-founder and former CEO of Home Depot. From their websites, JCN and FTF promote U.S. businesses, big and small, and their firm message is to reopen American business and to downplay the pandemic. JCN received some initial funding from Mercer Family Foundation lead by hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer.

Currently, a brief video by FTF features medical doctors—primarily from states with some of the largest current spikes in COVID-19, namely, Georgia, Missouri, Texas,, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio— urging the reopening of public schools in the interest of enabling children and older students to regain normal footing in the education process. There is no plan and no mention of the role for masking, social distancing, or frequent hand-washing in this reopening.

I looked up each physician on the video, and they appear to have legitimate and reputable professional credentials, but for me, two of them (from North Carolina and Kentucky) sent up red flags. Dr. Gray, from North Carolina, author of The Battle for America’s Soul and founder of Physicians for Reform, is a frequent guest on FOX news. His positions are firmly conservative. Dr. Rutherford, from Kentucky, seemed apolitical on two sites featuring her professional profile, but oddly, she retweets messages from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an organization whose Twitter messages directly contradict coronavirus case data published on mainline news media, as well as and on the Center for Disease Control and Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security websites. For example, regarding the most current COVID-19 spike in Texas, the Texas Public Policy Foundation tweeted that “the Texas COVID daily growth rate has steadily declined in July,” and Dr. Rutherford retweeted this lie. As for me, I’m sticking with Johns Hopkins and the New York Times for my data.

I want to be very clear. This pandemic is going to crush some businesses and be excruciating for the many workers who cobble together more than one job in the service industries to survive. Businesses are or will be reworking their business models, and they will, in many cases, further reduce their number of employees.

We need to bring case numbers and daily fatalities way, way down before we can resume business as usual. Just this morning, September 14, 2020, Canada announced their daily fatalities were at zero for the first time since last spring. The U.S. had reported 1,200 fatalities on the same day. These numbers are screaming at us.

I was listening to a podcast from Preet Bharara a few weeks ago. He was discussing wearing a mask and doing it for the common good and for the public health. Bharara said anyone has the right to jump off a building, but no one has the right to grab two innocent people to fall with them or the right to injure an innocent pedestrian on the sidewalk below. That would be negligent homicide or manslaughter. Let’s apply that logic to masking up.

Your wearing a mask for the common good is not in opposition to maintaining your First Amendment rights. It is for the general well-being of humanity. Anyone refusing to “live in fear” needs to think about the potential health impact on their community. Wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands on a regular basis. That’s how to live without fear.

For more information on COVID-19, check out the video from ACE’s September Zoom meeting, COVID-19: The Current State of the Pandemic.


ACE Leader Beverly George also is a member of Indivisible Naperville, the Naperville League of Women Voters, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also volunteers with her parish PADS group. A former chemist, George worked in clinical chemistry and hematology research at the Centers for Disease Control for six years and taught chemistry and freshman science at Naperville North High School for 20 years.
 

Where Do We Go From Here?

 

 

 

By Beverly George
ACE Leader

In this time of COVID-19, Black Lives Matter protesters have been marching for over three weeks. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and now Rayshard Brooks. The hanging deaths of Robert Fuller in Palmdale, California, on June 10 and of Malcolm Harsch in neighboring San Bernardino County on May 31 were first reported as suicides, but are now under further investigation. The list of black victims seems to never end, not even with resounding protests in our streets.

Where do we go from here?

That question led me last week to Oprah Winfrey’s webinar of the same name with a distinguished panel of experts. Her guests elucidated the constant fear of black Americans who are just trying to live their daily lives in our country. Discussion of the their experience was compelling. The panel also covered what they want white people in our country to know and what they want white people to do. Current protests offer all of us a chance to begin a long process of making our democracy stronger so that it can deliver to all Americans the promise of equal justice under the law.

Winfrey’s panel included Charles Blow, from the New York Times; David Oyelowo, the actor who played Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma”; Nikole Hannah-Jones of The 1619 Project, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, director of the documentary, “13th”; Jennifer Eberhardt Ph. D., professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See; Ibram X. Kendi, Ph. D., author of How To Be an Antiracist; Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; Stacey Abrams, champion of voting rights and author of Our Time is Now; Rashad Robinson, civil rights leader and president of Color of Change; and Bishop William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.

Barber listed five interlocking injustices that affect poor people, particularly black people, in America: systemic racism, systematic poverty, ecological devastation, denial of healthcare, and our nation’s war economy.

“The system is not broken,” said DuVernay. “It was built this way.”

Barber further cited “the false oral narrative of religious nationalism that consecrates all this evil.” What a bold, clear assessment.

All of this takes its toll on the black community, according to Eberhardt. “When we suffer, people are numb. People don’t feel we’re as vulnerable to pain,” she said.

“It’s a collective grief in the history of black Americans,” Hannah-Jones added. “White Americans will tolerate it until something egregious happens.”

I am a first wave Baby Boomer, born in 1946 in Atlanta, Georgia, born with white privilege. While my family worked hard to secure their place in the middle class, we had the advantage of our white skin. We did not have to seek food service from the back door of a café, take a seat at the rear of a bus, look hard and long for a public restroom or water fountain, worry about an encounter with the police or public officials, or fret about the logistics of making a purchase in a store. Today, the Jim Crow laws from my youth have been replaced with voter suppression laws and a two-faced legal justice system in many states.

I embrace my responsibility to push for change for black and brown Americans who have struggled for over 400 years. Paraphrasing a woman protesting somewhere in our nation last week, “You should all celebrate that we do not want revenge. We only want to live equal under the law!” This applies to law enforcement and court rulings, but it extends far beyond that.

Black lives matter. “Equal under the law” should apply to healthcare, education, the environment, equal pay for equal work, voting rights, and more. Our black brothers and sisters need us to stand united with them to this goal. When their lives improve, we will leave white privilege behind, and together, we will all embrace the American privilege of being equal under the law.

Isabel Wilkerson spoke at the College of DuPage in 2018. I had devoured her book, The Warmth of Other Suns, and I looked forward to hearing her discuss it.

Sometimes when you hear an author speak, you take away a beautiful, golden nugget of truth that sticks to the very fabric of your being. I am paraphrasing her now, but here’s the gist of that truth Wilkerson offered. She said that when one group of people continually tries to hold down another group in a ditch, that first group has to crawl down in the ditch themselves to control and suppress the other. I recall thinking in that moment—as I do even now—how absolutely exhausting this all is and has been for 400 years. It diminishes us all to continue this American caste system, born as slavery in 1619.

For the sake of our black and brown brothers and sisters, we must change this now. Together we can pull each other out of that deep, bloody ditch.

Therefore, I urge all ACE members and friends to get to work and advocate now for the following that disproportionately affect black and brown Americans.

 

Access the Ballot and Vote by Mail

Access the ballot in all states —now and in the future—by mail. Voters should be able to vote safely and comfortably in their homes and mail their ballots to be counted. What happened with the Wisconsin and Georgia primaries gave us a preview of how November 3 will play out. Polling sites will be closed and condensed into fewer without proper notice. Votes will inevitably be denied as poll books are not updated in time. Voting machines will not be rigorously tested nor learned to secure a smooth election process. All of these and more will produce a successful and complex strategy for overall voter suppression. Vote by Mail (VBM) works and delivered reliable election results in Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Utah, and Hawaii.

First, you can register to vote online at https://ova.elections.il.gov . If you’re not registered, but will be 18 years old on November 3, 2020, you can also register online today using that link.

Second, on June 16, 2020, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law expanding our state’s existing Vote by Mail process. The new law, effective immediately, applies only to the 2020 general election on November 3, 2020, and it is aimed at ensuring “safe and active participation in the 2020 general election during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” Local election officials must mail or email absentee ballot applications to voters who have participated in recent elections, namely, the 2018 general (mid-term) election, the 2019 consolidated election, or the 2020 general primary held on March 17, 2020. The applications will also be mailed to voters who registered or changed addresses after the March primary.

When you receive your application for an absentee ballot, fill it out and return it by October 1, 2020 to receive your ballot by October 6, 2020. The final step is to complete your ballot and return it. You do not have to wait until November 3 to mail your ballot. Vote by Mail works smoothly, is more convenient for most voters, and delivers reliable election results as we’ve seen in Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Utah, and Hawaii. The number of ballots cast is always higher in a VBM state because it makes the ballot accessible to more voters. Higher voter turnout is a healthy nonpartisan outcome that strengthens a democracy.

Third, take on your own grassroots project. Pick Wisconsin or Georgia and write a letter or email their state house members advocating for Vote By Mail.

 

Census: Fill It Out and Encourage Others to Do the Same

Census data is due August 14, 2020. If you’ve answered the Census 2020 questions, pat yourself on the back. Then, phone or email your friends and family, here and in other states, and encourage them to do the same. The complete response from each community now will determine the amount of federal funds they’ll receive for public education and other services for the next ten years.

 

Encourage Reform of the Criminal Justice System

We need to rethink and reconstruct law enforcement. Chokeholds and other brute force measures should be outlawed, primarily because they are too often used disproportionately on black or brown people stopped for a broken taillight or a DUI. Social services should respond to drug overdose and mental health calls, not armed police officers. I think we can find an effective model for reform in other countries like the U.K.

Prisons for Profit must end. To fill these businesses, black and brown people, including minor children, who have been found guilty are sentenced to lengthy, unjust terms. Bryan Stephenson’s Equal Justice Initiative provides the numbers here to show that America is, indeed, number one in the industry of incarceration.

This is a beginning. More changes will be needed later. Let’s get to work.

 

For more ways to be an ally, visit our Human Rights Committee page.

 

Sources

http://www.oprah.com/app/own-tv.html

http://www.oprah.com/own-wheredowegofromhere/part-1_1

http://www.oprah.com/own-wheredowegofromhere/part-2

https://ova.elections.il.gov

https://my2020census.gov

https://www.dailyherald.com/news/20200616/pritzker-signs-vote-by-mail-expansion-declares-election-day-a-state-holiday

https://eji.org/criminal-justice-reform/

 


ACE Leader Beverly George also is a member of Indivisible, the Naperville League of Women Voters, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also volunteers with her parish PADS group. A former chemist, George worked in clinical chemistry and hematology research at the Centers for Disease Control for six years and taught chemistry and freshman science at Naperville North High School for 20 years.

 

 

A Fair Tax for Illinois and Illinoisians

Now that the Fair Tax will be on the November 2020 ballot, here are a few things you should know.

 

By Beverly George,
ACE Leader

 

On May 14, I attended a Fair Tax Town Hall in Palatine with former State Sen. Daniel Biss presenting strong arguments for the amendment. Biss used a slideshow presentation prepared by the Responsible Budget Coalition, a nonpartisan alliance of 300 organizations across several different sectors, including human services, health care, civic organizations, pre-K through 12, higher education, and faith communities. A math professor, Biss was thorough in his explanation of the Fair Tax and how it would affect Illinois.

His presentation included the following points:

  • a review of how Illinois’ economy got into this budget hole over many years;
  • why the Flat Tax is unfair in structure and application to Illinoisans, as well as being a constitutional albatross around the state’s economic neck;
  • a comparison of the current Flat Tax structure and formula with tax plans used in other states;
  • how the Fair Tax would affect Illinois taxpayers; and
  • how the proposed Fair Tax would be a positive step forward in turning Illinois’ fiscal ship of state around.

Here is the slideshow. Please read and study the numbers for yourself. FairTax.final

How the Illinois economy got this way

From FY2000 to FY2019, there were several years when the state tried to operate without any budget. This overlapped in part with a period when the country was in a recession, so what was bad to begin with became worse over time. Like a family experiencing a job loss, a rising cost of living, and unpaid bills, routine but necessary maintenance projects, such as infrastructure, went undone as well. One slide shows how critical services lost significant funding from 2000 through 2019.

The Flat Tax as both a fiscal and constitutional albatross on the state’s economy

The Flat Income Tax was written into the state constitution in 1970 as a means to raise revenue. At that time, it seemed like a good idea to the legislators to tax all citizens at the same rate, but in 1970 the economic disparity between the lowest income earners and the highest income earners was far, far less than it is today.
Fast forward 49 years and times have changed, more funds are needed to pay down debt and deliver services. However, to raise more money, the general assembly can only raise the Flat Tax rate with the same rate falling across the backs of rich and poor alike.

How the Fair Tax will affect Illinoisans

Wait! It’s not alike at all, you say. Raising the tax rate 0.5 or 1% would be felt more acutely by the working poor through the middle class. Most Illinois taxpayers believe the top earners (over $250,000 per year) should pay a higher rate, and earners making $1M or more per year, should pay an even higher rate. The Fair Tax will increase income tax on the top 3% of Illinois earners and also provide some modest income tax relief to the bottom 97% who earn less than $250K per year.
Seven states have no state income tax, eight states have a Flat Tax policy, and only four mandate a Flat Tax in their constitutions. The federal government, the remaining states, and the District of Columbia all have graduated tax laws.

In those states that have a flat tax without the constitutional mandate, if voters want to raise revenue by moving to a graduated tax formula, they can vote for candidates running on the promise to enact that policy and bring change by election. However, in Illinois, voters wanting change and/or candidates promising change are ineffective because the Illinois constitution has to change with a new tax amendment.

Here’s the two-step process for change to the Fair Tax:

1. With a vote of 60%, both the state senate and house must pass a resolution to put it on the ballot for November, 2020. (Done.)
2. Once it’s on the ballot, we need 60% of voters to vote in favor of the ballot question, or, because many voters arrive uninformed on resolutions and choose not to vote on them at all, we need more than 50% of the people who vote to vote in favor of it.

And finally, the resolution will propose both the graduated tax structure and that it no longer be constitutionally mandated.

Finally and most importantly, if it gets on the ballot, we all have to sell it. This is a good plan. There will be plenty of money spent to defeat the Fair Tax, and the anti-Fair Tax messages will be false, intimidating, creative—perhaps even ridiculous—persistent, and ubiquitous.

So engage, get informed, and speak out.

 


ACE Leader Beverly George also is a member of Indivisible, the Naperville League of Women Voters, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also volunteers with her parish PADS group. A former chemist, George worked in clinical chemistry and hematology research at the Centers for Disease Control for six years and taught chemistry and freshman science at Naperville North High School for 20 years.

Coming April 1, 2020, and Back by Constitutional Demand: The National Census 2020

 

By Beverly George,
ACE Leader

 

“Get Out the Count!”

Sound familiar? This is the slogan for the national U.S. Census to be taken April 1, 2020. Preparation has already begun, and this Speak Out explains why a complete and accurate census is vital to our democracy.

If you’ve been following the news, last week U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman of New York ordered the Trump administration to stop its plan to add the citizenship question to the census form. The administration is asking the Supreme Court to hear its appeal soon. In his ruling, Judge Furman admonished Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for not heeding the advice of career professionals who warned that adding the question would result in much lower counts in densely populated areas.

Has a citizenship question ever been used on past census forms?

According to “Fact Check: Has Citizenship Been A Standard Census Question?” by NPR’s Tamara Keith, the census has been conducted every decade since 1790 to get the required headcount for deciding the national distribution of congressional representation. Originally taken by U.S. Marshals, the U.S. Postal Service took on the task as population grew.

In 1950, there was a census question asking where each person was born followed by the statement, “If foreign born—is he naturalized?” In 1960, there was no question about citizenship (the follow-up question in 1950), but there was the question about place of birth. In 1970, the Census Bureau sent a short form to all households seeking basic population information. They also sent long forms to one-sixth of American households, asking questions ranging from household income to plumbing, so five out of six households did not receive the long form.

Questions about citizenship were included in the long form beginning in 1970, but not the short form. For example, in 2000, citizens who received the long form were asked, “Is this person a CITIZEN of the United States?”

Later the census bureau added the American Community Survey, which is conducted every year and sent to 3.5 million households. It asked many of the same questions as the census long-form surveys from 1970 to 2000, including the citizenship question.

In 2010, the short form had no questions about citizenship. In 2020, there will be 11 questions on the census form. At this writing, there will be no citizenship question.

2020 Census

Responding to the U.S. Census is critical to maintain a robust democracy for several reasons, including the following.

  • An accurate and complete survey of U.S. population distribution provides for accurate congressional districting and representation.
  • An accurate and complete survey also determines how many Electoral College votes a state has. Like it or not, the Electoral College is still a part of the U.S. Constitution.
  • When a state or district applies for SNAP funds or other government programs, accurate and complete survey data is essential to meet the needs of diverse, local populations.

For the first time, there are three ways to respond to the 2020 Census—paper form, on the web, or on your mobile phone.

If you’re wondering how homeless people are counted, there will be “boots on the ground” census takers with iPads to gather this data. There also will be census takers on reservations because many Native Americans don’t have individual mailing addresses by house number and street. Young people, ages 18-24 years old, are also labeled as hard to reach in the census count because they often don’t open their snail mail, nor do they read their email. In every case, the census wants to count once and count accurately where individuals reside on Census Day, April 1st, 2020.

Census data is protected (that is, not removed or erased) for 72 years for genealogy purposes, and the president, ICE, and the FBI will not have access to census data, according to Census Bureau representatives.

Illinois is a diverse state, and the census bureau plans to adapt to that. The online form will be available in 12 languages. Efforts are being made now to partner with trusted community groups to message the importance and the how-tos of taking part in the census. There will be heavy recruitment for these six-month jobs, which will pay between $13 and $21per hour. If you’re interested, visit https://www.census.gov/about/regions/chicago/jobs/all.html.

The Census window extends from March 16, 2020 through April 30, 2020, and the official Census Day is April 1st. The census has real impact on real people via representation, and government assistance to states for SNAP, ESL programs, and more. The goal is to count everyone once and accurately. With the guaranteed cacophony of primary election news breaking daily in early 2020, it’s important that we keep beating the U.S. Census drum loudly to #GetOutTheCount!

 


ACE Leader Beverly George also is a member of Indivisible, the Naperville League of Women Voters, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also volunteers with her parish PADS group. A former chemist, George worked in clinical chemistry and hematology research at the Centers for Disease Control for six years and taught chemistry and freshman science at Naperville North High School for 20 years.