Census 2020

What you need to know

Every 10 years, the federal government conducts a census to count all people in the United States. Everyone should be counted without exception — and you can make that happen. You can fill out the census online, by phone, or by the mail (just remember: don’t lick the envelope!). Online, it takes just 10 minutes.

An accurate census count is vital to a strong democracy. Responding to the census is our civic duty. This is something you can now do from home because the census is moving forward. 

As a result of the current health crisis, the U.S. Census Bureau has delayed a few originally planned outreach operations for a couple of weeks, but self-response from American residents has always been the most critical part of the census and self-response to the census is going on now. 

Responding to the census has never been easier, and it is something we can all do from home during this self isolation period. You can respond online, over the phone or by mail — without having to meet a census taker or have any in-person interactions. Have questions? Check out our FAQ resource here.

The census is a fundamental pillar of our democracy and our constitutional structure, determining both members of Congress and Electoral College votes for each state. The data also informs our nation’s most important decisions, including how the federal government spends $900 billion on critical services like building roads, funding health care programs, and supporting education.

mytubethumb play
Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from youtube-nocookie.com.

Why Should I Participate?

The census count is used to apportion representation in Congress and in drawing congressional and state legislative districts. Apportionment is based on the number of people who live in a district. If there is an undercount in a state, that state could lose a member of Congress and part of their voice in our government. 

An undercount would also shift power away from urban areas — since about 61 percent of undocumented immigrants live in just 20 U.S. cities — and toward rural areas, which already have disproportionate political power as a result of the Senate and the Electoral College.

Depressing census response rates in already underrepresented communities will allow politicians to draw even more skewed legislative districts and further dilute the political power of these communities.

The ACLU is hard at work making sure our democracy survives this national health crisis, but responding to the census is something that everybody can do to help ensure the future of our democracy. Responding to the census is our civic duty. Everybody should do their part.



There is NO Citizenship Question

The Trump administration tried to include a citizenship question on this year’s census, but we took them to the Supreme Court and we won. There is NO citizenship question on this year’s census. By the administration’s own estimate, the question would have resulted in an undercount of 6.5 million people. 

mytubethumb play
Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from youtube-nocookie.com.

The entire purpose of the census survey, as required by the Constitution, is to get an accurate headcount of all persons living in the U.S., regardless of legal status. So why did the administration try to add a question that it has already conceded will undercount millions?

Simply put, the administration doesn’t want certain people to count. The ACLU successfully sued the Trump administration to stop this plan, which intentionally discriminates against immigrant communities of color and violates the constitutional mandate to count the U.S. population accurately. On Jan. 15, a federal court blocked the question from appearing on the 2020 census, finding that it constitutes an “egregious” violation of federal law. Judge Furman concluded that if the Trump administration got its way and a citizenship question was put on the census, “hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of people will go uncounted.”


The push to ask about citizenship on the census is not new. However, past attempts have been rejected because virtually all experts believe that adding such a question would derail the entire premise of the census.

The Trump administration tried to do it anyway.

In September 2017, the Census Bureau released a report on how people in already hard-to-count communities may be intimidated in the current political environment from responding to the decennial census. The research was prompted by a “recent increase in respondents spontaneously expressing concerns to researchers and field staff about confidentiality and data access relating to immigration.” Participants in focus groups specifically talked about Trump’s anti-immigrant policies like the Muslim ban and his ramp up of deportations as reasons they would fear participating in the census.

In 2015, the Supreme Court heard Evenwel v. Abbott, a case in which plaintiffs argued that state legislative lines should be tied to the number of eligible voters, rather than total population counts. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that states can count all residents in drawing election districts. Four former Census Bureau directors submitted a friend-of-the-court brief saying, “a [person-by-person] citizenship inquiry would invariably lead to a lower response rate to the census in general,” and it would “seriously frustrate the Census Bureau’s ability to conduct the only count the Constitution expressly requires: determining the whole number of persons in each state in order to apportion House seats among the states.”

At a 2005 Congressional hearing on apportionment and citizenship, Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt testified that adding a citizenship question would reduce response rates by noncitizens and the accuracy of counts for both citizens and noncitizens would be reduced if the question was included.

Census Bureau Director John Keane testified before Congress that asking about citizenship or legal status could cause the Census Bureau to be “perceived as an enforcement agency” and that doing so would have “a major effect on census coverage.”

He also told Congress that the Census Bureau believed that the addition of a citizenship question would cause immigrants and legal residents to “misunderstand or mistrust the census and fail or refuse to respond.”

In 1980, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a far-right anti-immigrant group, sued the Census Bureau in an attempt to force them to collect citizenship information on the 1980 census. In its briefing the Census Bureau wrote, “Any effort to ascertain citizenship will inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count . . . Questions as to citizenship are sensitive in minority communities and would inevitably trigger hostility, resentment and refusal to cooperate.”

Stay Informed