Bertie County works to produce accurate 2020 census count

Published 9:24 am Wednesday, June 5, 2019

You won’t be able to fill out your 2020 census form for another 10 months, but the public campaign to get you thinking about it is already underway.

Back in March, in a ceremony at the old State Capitol in downtown Raleigh, Gov. Roy Cooper and members of the N.C. Complete Count Commission outlined the importance of counting everyone who lives in the state next April 1. Headed by Machelle Sanders, the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Administration, the commission is coordinating state and local efforts to encourage people to respond to the census.

It’s expected that North Carolina will pick up a 14th seat in the U.S. House of Representatives due to expanding population within the Tarheel state.

But the numbers are also used in other ways than determining seats in Congress, most notably it’s used in deciding how and where some $675 billion in federal spending is allocated each year. That alone gives state and local governments incentive for making sure everyone gets counted.

The success of the 2020 count depends on everyone’s participation, and one way to ensure that is the formation of a local Complete Count Committee in the various counties. This Committee will be comprised of local government officials, business persons, and community leaders developing an outreach plan tailored to the unique characteristics of each community.

At the May meeting of the Bertie County Commissioners, James Cofield, President and CEO of Cofield Properties in Kitty Hawk, shared with the Board the intention of the NC Complete Count Commission, of which he is a member, to assist throughout the state with the 2020 census to ensure that the participation rate is as high as it can be.

“I’m aware that Bertie County has already taken some steps to move this ball along,” Cofield said.

He stated that the count day for the 2020 census is April 1, 2020. “But there’s a ton of work still to be done, and we are just at the beginning of this process,” he shared. “It is in your interest, in the interest of your county that participation be high because whether it’s health care, transportation, or education, funds flowing into the state and into Bertie are based on census data. We need every resident to be counted.”

Cofield provided an overview of the benefits of census data, particularly regarding corporate boundaries such as the expansion of town limits.

Cofield also shared that there are participation risks in an inaccurate count in Bertie County. He maintained there are language risks to residents who do not speak English well with respect to being counted.

“Someone knocks on the door and receives an answer that no one is home – that is not in the best interest for that to be the response,” he noted.

Cofield said poverty is a big risk factor, but not as much as language barriers.

He provided clarity regarding the census count related to college students and jail inmates.

“If a college student is at, say, North Carolina A&T, then they are counted for that period of time as a resident of Greensboro or Guilford County,” he warned. “If you have prisoners, they are counted as residents of a particular county; but, that’s for prisons and not for jail.”

Cofield noted that there will be budgetary cuts by the U.S. Census Bureau. He also shared that there is an increase in trust when local community members serve as enumerators (counters). He reiterated that it is in the interest of the Commissioners and county government that every resident is counted for the census.

Commissioner Tammy Lee expressed her prior experience being an enumerator and the importance of informing young people about the census.

“There are committees that assist the enumerators,” he added.

Commissioner Ron Wesson said in a rural setting, there will be people in parts of the county who, if they don’t know you when you’re at their door, they, more often than not, won’t answer.

“That’s why we’ve got to get local people that folks recognize and know to go into their own neighborhoods; we can’t send in somebody from, say, Raleigh,” Wesson stated.

This year, Cofield noted, will also feature self-responding once the questionnaires are received by mail. The idea is to self-respond either online, on the phone, or by mail.

Later, during the meeting. Assistant to the County Manager Dominique Walker shared with the Commissioners a list of interested persons for the Complete Count Committee representing a cross-section of county residents.