DG Census mailboxes 2

A row of mailboxes seen Wednesday for the residents in the 4300 block of Buckeystown Pike.

When navigating foreign territory, who better to ask for directions than a local?

This is the mindset behind the U.S. Census Bureau’s Local Update of Census Addresses Operation (LUCA). Amid preparations for the upcoming 2020 census count, the federal agency has enlisted local and state governments to help track down the more than 325 million people living in the United States, according to the most recent Census Bureau population estimates.

“The key to an accurate census is an accurate count,” said Brian Timko, the 2020 census coordinator for the Census Bureau’s geography division. “Our goal is to count everyone once, and only once.”

Concerns about underreporting in the 1990 census prompted the LUCA program, Timko said. In subsequent decennial counts in 2000 and 2010, the agency was authorized to share its confidential street address list with local governments, which cross check the Census Bureau information with their own internal systems.

New developments, particularly multi-unit apartment buildings and land that has been rezoned for residential use are two occasions where Census Bureau addresses might be incorrect or out of date, Timko said.

There were 900,000 address updates provided by Maryland and its local governments for the 2010 census, according to Timko.

Mary McCullough, a GIS analyst in Frederick County’s Interagency Information Technology department who participated in LUCA for Frederick County in 2000 and 2010, estimated the county helped to correct upwards of 1,000 addresses for the last count.

McCullough anticipated Urbana, Lake Linganore and Ballenger Creek — areas that have seen significant residential development in recent years — might be trouble spots for the upcoming 2020 count.

Though LUCA participation is not mandated, the opportunity to ensure more accurate counting can benefit local participants.

Decennial census information coincides with an update of congressional district boundaries. Redrawing district boundaries is intended to reflect changes in population, but has also been used as a tool to help candidates of a certain political party win office, which is known as gerrymandering.

In the last redistricting, which took effect in 2012, Frederick County was split as part of a shift that made the 6th District more Democratic. A federal challenge to Maryland’s congressional redistricting was expected to go to trial this summer, but might hold for the U.S. Supreme Court to consider a Wisconsin case alleging partisan gerrymandering.

While it’s unlikely that correcting a few inaccurate addresses would change the way congressional districts are drawn, underreporting can have more significant consequences in other areas, according to Walter Olson, co-chairman of the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission.

The homeless population and immigrants — particularly those who are undocumented — might not be accurately reflected in census counts because of their transient nature or because they do not want to answer the surveys, Olson said.

Undercounting in turn can reduce federal aid to those places, hurting the affected people and the agencies created to help them, which rely on federal dollars, Olson explained.

It can also put more pressure on local governments to make up the difference with their own operating budgets. McCullough noted how federal funding allocations plays a part in Frederick County’s budget, particularly for schools and social services.

Six of the 11 Frederick County municipalities — 54.54 percent — as well as Frederick County government helped review local addresses for the 2010 count. This is much higher than the 25 percent average participation rate among local governments nationwide, Timko said.

A majority of municipalities also expressed interest in participating in the 2020 address review during a recent meeting of town planners and representatives, McCullough said.

According to the 2020 census plan, agency information will be shared with local governments for review beginning in February, with feedback provided by August 2019. April 1, 2020, is the designated Census Day.

Follow Nancy Lavin on Twitter: @NancyKLavin.

Nancy Lavin covers social services, demographics and religion for The Frederick News-Post.

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