1. Only A Jurisdiction’s Highest-Ranking Leaders Can Challenge Census Results
Since 1990 the Census Bureau has offered communities a way to request a review of their decennial census results if they felt the count was inaccurate. This process is called Count Question Resolution (CQR).
However, only the highest elected or appointed official in state, local or tribal government can make a CQR request to the Census Bureau on behalf of the jurisdiction they represent. The following governmental units can make a CQR request:
- Tribal areas (federally recognized American Indian tribes with reservation and/or reservation trust lands, Alaska Native Regional Corporations, and Alaska Native villages)
Although the request must be filed by the highest official in a jurisdiction, communities can enlist help. Data analysts, whether employees or hired consultants, can often help compile the information needed for a successful CQR challenge.
2. The Challenge Can’t Be Based on Population Numbers Alone
You may feel the 2020 Census count for your municipality or tribal area seems too low, but that isn’t enough to file a CQR challenge. CQR challenges must be justified by one of the following:
- Boundary cases—inaccurate boundaries for a jurisdiction in the census results in housing being left out of a jurisdiction’s count.
- Housing cases—The boundary was correct, but housing units were incorrectly placed as outside a jurisdiction’s boundaries. Or the housing was excluded from enumeration because of inaccuracies in census records for specific living quarters.
A CQR case can be based on one or both types of issues.
The Census Bureau will not canvass an area to collect new data as part of the CQR review. They will look at existing data to see if the data they collected was processed correctly. That’s why it’s important to provide information and additional context to support a challenge.
3. Your Local Data is the Key to a Challenge
The starting point for a CQR challenge is to look at census block data published by the Census Bureau. However, due to the Census Bureau’s new privacy protection measures census block data won’t be precise. This means it will take effort to point out areas where counts might be inaccurate.
Your knowledge of your community is one of the best tools you have.
As North Carolina Census Liaison Bob Coats explains, “Local information is the ammunition you need to support your challenge.”
Consider if census block data may have missed housing you know is present in that area. Look at the 2020 Census block maps to make sure they correctly represent the boundaries of your jurisdiction. Then consider the housing you know is present in the blocks.
You can use mapping software to identify clusters of housing that may have been incorrectly identified in census maps as commercial or a single residential unit rather than group housing. Boundary cases must be supported by county block maps depicting the potentially correct and incorrect boundaries and the residential addresses affected by the boundary. Compile lists with housing units and group quarter counts within a block that seems off.
Local building records, planning and zoning actions, and annexations can be used to demonstrate jurisdiction boundaries or the presence of housing units that don’t match census records. Utility bills can be used to show occupancy. Property tax records can establish the presence of new housing in a census block that might have been missed.
Keep in mind, the boundaries used must be those that were in place on January 1, 2020. Areas annexed by a jurisdiction after that date can’t be the basis of a CQR request.
Housing units must be occupied as of April 1, 2020, to be included in a CQR request. If the records demonstrate occupancy after that date, it won’t help your challenge.
4. There is a New Type of Challenge Available in Addition to CQR
CQR is the primary way local governments can ask the Census Bureau to review their data. However, there is a new review option called “2020 Post-Census Group Quarter Review (PCGQR).” During COVID, counting residents in group quarters was especially challenging. Pandemic restrictions and efforts to reduce congregate settings affected the residential population of some group housing and the ability of the Bureau to collect data from those settings. Examples of group housing that might have been affected would be college dormitories, nursing homes, prisons, children’s homes, and military barracks.
If your community is home to group housing settings that may have been counted inaccurately, you can submit a request for Group Quarter Review through the PCGQR program. Include documentation about the COVID response in these group housing quarters that contributed to their undercount in 2020, such as remote learning for the local college campus or the discharge or transfer residents in a local nursing home. Unlike the traditional CQR reviews, a Group Quarter Review won’t change the census count for your community. However, it will change the base used to produce the Census Bureau’s annual population estimates.
5. If you Think the Census Count in Your Community is Wrong, CQR is Still Your Best Option
The CQR is the only free option that can result in a change to a jurisdiction’s census count until the next decennial census. Ten years is a long time for a community to live with an undercount.
After the CQR concludes, it is possible to request a Special Census. This process can update a community’s count, but the jurisdiction pays the entire cost of conducting the census.
A successful CQR review will correct the errors made in the 2020 Census, making future counts more accurate. The updated counts will also be used in the bureau’s annual post-census annual population estimates.
Even if a CQR challenge is successful, the Census Bureau won’t be able to change congressional apportionment counts, redistricting data, or existing 2020 Census data products.
6. There is Still Plenty of Time to Act
If the thought of pouring over census block and map data seems like a lot of work, don’t worry. You have ample time to build your case.
The opportunity to request a CQR review began in January 2022 and extends through June 30 of 2023. The Census bureau’s deadline for responding to CQR challenges is September 30, 2023.
Start by reviewing the resources listed below. The Census Bureau also has a hotline you can contact to ask questions about CQR. From 8 am to 8 pm Monday through Friday, call 1-888-369-3617 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep in mind that census counts, and the population estimates based on the count, are used for funding formulas for many federal programs. Getting the numbers right has a direct effect on a community’s financial future until the 2030 Census. Don’t miss this opportunity if you think a review of your 2020 Census count is needed!
For More Information & Resources
- There is a CQR Participant Guide and a PCGQR Participant Guide on the Census Bureau website to walk you through the process.
- You can find Census block and group quarters information on OSBM’s LINC data platform. Look under "Latest Updates."
- Find population estimates and municipal boundaries on the State Demographer data platform.
- Find mapping resources from NC OneMap and Census Bureau shapefiles.
- Watch OSBM’s presentation to the NC League of Municipalities on this topic.
If you have questions about the information in this post or the resources listed, please contact Bob Coats, NC Census Liaison, or Michael Cline, NC State Demographer.