The Republican National Committee has mailed forms, called the “2020 Congressional District Census,” to selected homes in Montgomery and Berks counties in recent weeks. One lawmaker worries the form is purposely deceiving residents.
“The big risk is that people will fill this out and believe they have completed the census,” said Democratic Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, who represents parts of the counties. “They’re going to think ‘I completed my census’ and then there will be an undercount.”
The official U.S. Census Bureau questionnaire will be available online to Pennsylvania homes by mid-March.
The data collected by the federal government is supposed to give a complete headcount of everyone living in the United States. The results determine how trillions in federal dollars get doled out among communities for social services and infrastructure over the next 10 years.
Though the RNC form states the survey was “commissioned by the Republican Party,” Dean said everything, from the name on top of the document to the font used, aims to mimic the official survey.
“For any organization to be sending out a form that has the appearance of an official congressional district census, as it’s titled, it’s risking — and they know it — they’re risking confusion of the population,” she said.
What’s more, the questions in the RNC form could have a secondary chilling effect, said Dean.
The RNC questionnaire asks a respondent’s political leanings and whether they plan to support President Donald Trump in his 2020 re-election bid.
Associating the word “census” with political questions like, “Do you approve or disapprove of the Democrats’ never-ending witch hunt to try and destroy President Trump?” could make people less inclined to fill out any document labeled “census,” according to Dean.
Census advocates are already on edge, as census worker recruitment continues to lag in parts of the country because of low unemployment. They also fear residents will be less inclined to fill out the form because of general distrust in government, and confusion over the much-debated citizenship question, which the form will not ask.
A form like the one being circulated by the RNC, Dean says, will only complicate matters, especially because the survey asks for donations to the Republican Party at the end of the form.
“People could get this, not know what a census looks like and wonder, ‘Am I supposed to give money when I complete a census?’” said Dean.
Already, news reports about “fake census” forms making the rounds have led to confusion.
Philadelphia resident Denise, who didn’t want to give her full name out of fear she would be targeted for scams, said she got a very official-looking mail invitation to fill out the American Community Survey, an official Census Bureau form given to randomly selected families each year.
Though she’d never heard of the ACS, Denise filled out the form which asked about her educational attainment, the type of fuel she used, and how much she spent on utilities — much more detailed questions than the 2020 census would ask.
Already skeptical of some of the questions asking about her income, Denise left some key questions blank.
Then she heard about a “fake census” form on the news. She called Dean’s office to ask for help. The form she filled out never mentioned the Republican Party, so she worried she’d gotten scammed by a possible third party.
“My concerns were … if this isn’t the official census, who did I just email this information to, and what are they going to do with this information?” Denise said.
As it turns out, Denise filled out a legitimate form. People like Denise, who are invited to fill out the ACS, will also have to fill out the regular 2020 census form come March.
But Denise’s experience shows just how confusing the process can be, especially this year, which is the first time the census will be available online. People will get reminders in the mail reminding them to go online and paper copies can be requested. People can also fill out the census over the phone, too.
Julia Vahey, executive director of the Montgomery County Republican Committee, which has no relation to the RNC form being mailed out, found the response to the mailer overblown.
She sees the RNC form as an opportunity to educate people about political mailings as we head into the November election.
Vahey and her mother also received RNC surveys and threw them out because they didn’t want to participate.
“I don’t think it’s misleading that this a national or official document,” Vahey said. “Nowhere on here does it say that it is official or commissioned by the U.S. government. It doesn’t have any seals or official government markings at all, it’s clearly from a political party.”
What’s more, Vahey points to the fact the Democratic Party sends similar mailings that ask for donations and political questions.
Still, as a result of confusion over whether an official-looking census form is real or a scam, people like Denise won’t submit all the data the Census Bureau needs.