Participate in the U.S. Census | Editorial

2010 is an important year. We will participate in the 23rd U.S. Census to determine our nation’s population.

The census is mandated every 10 years by the U.S. Constitution; the results are used to allocate congressional seats, electoral votes and government program funding.

Census documents will be mailed March 15. Until then, local census workers will be spreading the word, on the street and through this newspaper, to encourage islanders to complete their census forms — all islanders, regardless of citizenship or legal residency.

Local census agent Tim Thomsen said the sole purpose of the census is to collect general statistical information. Replies are obtained only to enable the compilation of those statistics. The confidentiality of these replies is protected. By law, no one — neither the census takers nor any other Census Bureau employee — is permitted to reveal identifiable information about any census respondent. And confidentiality has been upheld as protected by the courts.

In 1980, FBI agents went to the Census Bureau’s Colorado Springs office with warrants to seize census documents, but were denied. Courts ruled that no agency, including the FBI, has access to census data. Census records and data specific to individual respondents are not available to the public for 72 years, but statistical data are released as soon as they are available.

Here’s what the census does for San Juan County:

— Determines distribution of congressional seats. Washington state is expected to gain an additional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (Oregon could lose one) if population estimates are borne out by the census. In other words, if we have more residents, we need more representation in Washington, D.C.

— Defines state legislative districts.

— Helps elected officials decide what community services to provide, such as where to provide services for seniors, where to build new roads and schools, where to locate job training centers.

— Helps direct the distribution of $300 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year. Census data affects how funding is allocated to communities for education, neighborhood improvements, public health, transportation, and more.

Thomsen said only 34 percent of San Juan County census forms were returned in 2000 — the most abysmal return rate in the state. He speculates they weren’t returned because this wasn’t the recipient’s primary address, or because of fear because of citizenship status.

Help provide an accurate picture of our community. Participate in the 2010 U.S. Census.