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"We predict we're 1,787 people away from losing the last seat. ... We have about 1,700 townships in the state, so if we miss one person in every township, we lose a congressional seat. That's just one person in every small town in our state."

Ryan Dolan, Census 2010 campaign coordinator for the State Demographic Center, quoted in the Bemidji Pioneer, June 24, 2009.

Editorial: An early warning: The census matters

  • January 2, 2010 - 5:54 PM

Minnesotans have extra incentive this year to be sure they are counted -- and counted here -- by the decennial U.S. census that will begin in March. The retention of the state's current complement of eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives is on the line.

State demographer Tom Gillaspy has been warning for months that the next census could result in the loss of one congressional seat in Minnesota. In fact, he confessed last week that, until the recession hit, he was almost resigned to the probability that Minnesotans would be allowed to elect only seven U.S. House members from newly drawn districts in 2012.

But the economic calamity that hit a number of the nation's previously fast-growing states -- Arizona, Florida and Nevada among them -- puts Minnesota's comparatively modest 7 percent estimated population gain in the decade that just ended in more favorable light. The growth of boom states is believed to have slowed considerably. "It's an ill wind that blows no one any good," Gillaspy quipped. He now considers Minnesota "on the cusp" of losing a congressional seat. Four states -- Minnesota, Missouri, Texas and California -- appear to be competing for three seats.

In that contest, Minnesota traditionally has had one big advantage -- the cooperation of its civic-minded citizens. The arrival of this year's census forms in the March mail ought to summon that tradition to the fore.

One good reason to complete the form when it arrives is that doing so is required by law. In fact, noted Gillaspy, it's one of the few duties of citizenship that is backed by a statutory requirement. That's because the founders of this republic considered fair, adequate, accurate representation crucial to its success. They had good reason to think so: They had just fought a war of independence from Britain over insufficient representation in Parliament.

But Minnesota's self-interest also should motivate census compliance this year. State and regional differences matter in a host of federal activities, from dairy price supports to Medicare reimbursement to health care providers to transportation subsidies. Fewer Minnesota voices in Congress advocating for this state could well affect matters ranging from the price of a gallon of milk to the availability of medical care and mass transit.

The census' timing may pose a particular challenge for one breed of Minnesotan -- the snowbirds. Census forms are not forwarded by the postal service. Their due date is April 1, before many snowbirds fly or drive north.

To the snowbirds, Gillaspy makes a plea: Make sure you get counted in Minnesota. The census "asks where you live most of the time, not where you're found," he said. The April 1 date is not absolute, he advised. In a few months, the State Demographic Center will establish a help line to assist Minnesotans who know they won't be able to meet that due date. Be watching for that number at www.demography.state.mn.us.

Gillaspy also advises snowbirds that where one lives for census purposes has no connection to where one pays taxes. The IRS and the state Department of Revenue has no access to census data until they are made public, which under federal law cannot happen for 72 years.

It's ironic that a Minnesota member of Congress, Republican Michele Bachmann, went so far last summer to declare her intention to only partially complete her census forms, and to suggest reasons for others not to comply with the census law. If Minnesota loses a congressional seat, Bachmann's populous Sixth District could be carved into pieces. She likely would have to battle another incumbent to hang on to her seat. We've noticed that her anticensus rhetoric has lately ceased. We hope she got wise: Census compliance is not only in Minnesota's best interest, but also her own.

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