KansasReporter.org: Spike in Census errors on campus
The following piece comes from KansasReporter.org, which is a project of the Kansas Policy Institute, and is run by a team of veteran journalists:
By Gene Meyer, June 17, 2010
(KansasReporter) TOPEKA, Kan. – The Kansas Secretary of State’s office has found a big spike in census errors on Kansas campuses that could affect the redrawing of electoral boundaries throughout the state.
Census workers in the secretary of state’s office found significant errors in 30 percent of 25,000 of the more than 100,000 responses they received this spring for a special survey that Kansas conducts each 10 years in connection with the federal decennial census.
By comparison, only 9 percent of the comparable forms turned in 10 years ago were flawed, said Abbie Hodgson, the office’s public affairs director. Many of the latest errors appeared to involve missing information, she said.
State workers need to contact students and resolve the mistakes now to avoid bigger problems as Kansas legislators redraw Congressional, Kansas Legislature and Kansas State Board of Education boundaries during the next two years, said Chris Biggs, Kansas’ secretary of state.
“It’s important that students complete the adjustment form so that they are counted in their hometowns during redistricting,” Biggs said Thursday. “We’re in the process of reaching out…to ensure that we have complete and accurate information.”
Federal census numbers are used to recalculate everything from boundaries for federal and state legislative districts to the equitable distribution of about $400 billion in annual, population-linked spending within each state, said Rich Gerdes, an assistant regional director of the U.S. Census, in Kansas City, Kan.
But exactly how states use those numbers to draw legislative boundaries and divide the money usually is up to state legislatures so long as their members follow broad guidelines regarding equal representation. Kansas and at least seven other states require lawmakers there to make some specific adjustments to federal numbers that most will receive nine or 10 months from now.
In Kansas, a constitutional amendment passed sometime before the 1990 federal census requires that college students and military service members be counted as residents of their home towns, not the campus or military communities where they might live nine or more months a year.
“That’s different from how we list them on the federal census,” said Gerdes. “We would list them where they live most of the year.”
Legislators use the federal numbers to calculate U.S. Congressional districts and the state-adjusted numbers to determine state legislative and school board districts. And populations can change markedly between the calculations. Heavily populated Johnson County, in northeastern Kansas, gained nearly 2,600 additional residents in 2000, when absent college students were sent home statistically. Less densely populated Riley County, further west, lost more than 13,000 residents when Fort Riley families and Kansas State University students by the same process.
Kansas’ census allows students some leeway in deciding whether to claim their campus town or their home town as a principal residence, Hodgson said.
“We realize it may be different if you are a freshman away from home for the first time, or a senior living in Lawrence who’s put down roots in the community,” she said.