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Locals ahead of national census curves

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | April 21, 2020 1:13 AM

The Founding Fathers understandably did not have the forethought to predict when a pandemic would threaten the machinery of the Constitution. After all, prior to its drafting, the most recent outbreak on record was a smallpox epidemic from 1633.

But only four years after the first Congress put pen to paper and forged a new nation, yellow fever swept through Philadelphia, killing more than 10 percent of its 50,000 residents and, ironically, forcing the nation’s Capitol to move to its new home in Washington, D.C.

Today’s COVID-19 hasn’t swept with the same proportional devastation over the countryside, but the virus is crafting a constitutional pickle of its own, turning the long-held tradition of counting everyone into an online forum.

“When I volunteered for the complete count committee, I was looking forward to this [tradition],” said David Callahan, director of Kootenai County’s Community Development team. “Now, everything’s just in limbo.”

Limbo, Callahan said, because taking the census — like everything else — has been on hold since the coronavirus exploded across the United States. Nearly 750,000 Americans have been infected by COVID-19, with more than 39,000 dying as of press time Monday. The task of knocking on doors and collecting data without risking further infection and spread has become impossible.

As a result, the U.S. has deputized another tool the framers of the Constitution couldn’t foresee as a work-around to an unexpected problem: the internet. Sunday, the Census Bureau announced nationwide that just over half of American households have responded to the census, providing a count that will help divide federal dollars and firm up local representation in Congress.

Locally, that response rate is beating the national average. Statewide, Idaho has given a 54-percent response rate. Coeur d’Alene and Rathdrum have 59 percent, while Post Falls has reached 60 percent. Hayden leads the county at 61 percent.

Hauser is not far from the national average at just under 48 percent, while Athol has lagged behind at 35 percent. The enclave of Harrison and its 200-ish residents brings up the rear with 7 percent compliance.

President Donald Trump said last week he might ask for a delay in the census deadlines.

The president said he’ll seek a four-month extension, though he later said that timeline might not even be long enough to produce an accurate count.

If you haven’t already taken part in the Census, the bureau recommends either responding to questionnaires that will arrive in mailboxes shortly — if they haven’t already — calling the Census Bureau, or by visiting www.2020census.gov to fill out the questionnaire.

“We’re thrilled that the residents of the Gem State understand that responding to the 2020 Census is important for their communities,” said Jeff Enos, the bureau’s deputy regional director. “It’s their civic duty, and easy to do; and that’s reflected in the Self-Response numbers. We want to encourage everyone in Idaho to continue responding to the 2020 Census online, over the phone, or by mail. It is safe, easy and important.”

The online option is the avenue Callahan encourages.

“I was frankly amazed when I went through the process online,” Callahan said. “From start to finish, it ended up taking me about four minutes.”

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