Census Day is coming up on April 1.
And through its recently formed Complete Count Committee (CCC), the city of Kenmore is working to ensure that the final count accurately reflects the area.
Although the committee primarily focuses on Kenmore, it is partnered with other nearby cities of Bothell, Woodinville and Lake Forest Park. According to committee chair and Kenmore councilmember Debra Srebnik, the group is considered representative of North King County, ultimately working in alignment with overarching King County efforts.
The Census has occurred once every 10 years since 1790. The decennial tradition helps determine how much federal funding needs to be allotted to communities every year and how many Congressional seats a state receives.
Srebnik brought up Census outreach in Kenmore to the city manager about two years ago after hearing a presentation at the National League of Cities. Soon afterward, the city spent time devising how it could coordinate local census outreach efforts.
This culminated in the formation of the CCC. Currently, the group has been organizing its efforts around three approaches: universal messaging (updates on social media, newsletters, tabling); targeted outreach and education (focusing on historically under-counted areas); and setting up times and opportunities during which community members can get their questions answered.
The committee additionally includes representatives from the regional office of the U.S. Census Bureau to ensure that the city’s efforts are aligned, and a statewide outreach specialist.
Mark Ohrenschall, a 23-year Kenmore resident and seven-year planning commissioner, remembers first hearing about Census assistance last year and knew right away that he wanted to get involved.
“I think the Census is one of the fundamentals of democracy,” Ohrenschall, who mostly focuses on communication efforts, said, adding that there is a core group of between 15 and 20 people usually working on local outreach.
Outreach typically either revolves around Census-job recruitment or general community engagement.
Srebnik said although she isn’t aware of what Census efforts in the city looked like in previous years, she knows that in the past, the Census Bureau carried most of the “weight and burden.”
State and local efforts have since had to pick up the slack, she noted, due to a lack of resources. Ten years ago, there were 200 statewide outreach specialists; for the 2020 Census, Srebnik noted, there are 20.
“I think the biggest challenge is that we’re all just volunteering,” she said. “So it’s just time and energy.”
Ohrenschall said it can be difficult to narrow down what exactly is the best point of action for a city like Kenmore. He’s also heard concerns from people about privacy — this will be the first year in which individuals can participate online — and residual anxieties from President Donald Trump’s recent (and federally struck down) suggestion that there be a citizenship question on the census.
Srebnik said that in spite of the lack of resources and the high amounts of energy that have to be exerted, “people have just really stepped up.”
“Rewarding is seeing the incredible commitment and volunteerism and spirit of community that has already come from this effort,” Srebnik said. “And we’re just partway in at this point. The volunteers that have come from the community are so engaged and so wonderful and committed. And the partnerships that we’ve made are going to be long lasting as well.”
Srebnik hopes that even though a lot can change in a decade, current efforts by the committee might help form something of a “playbook” for outreach for the next Census.
“[It’s been exciting] knowing that what we’re doing is really trying to ensure that everyone is counted once and only once and in the right place,” she said. “That’s what drives the whole effort. And making sure that every single person in Kenmore feels like they’re important and wants to be counted.”
Ohrenschall stressed the importance of the Census.
“It’s not one of those necessarily high-profile, glamorous exercises of the federal government, but it’s just super important to representation, to federal funding, to uses by all kinds of businesses,” he said. “I just think it’s really important that whatever we can do, even in our small, local community, to make sure everyone is counted…I don’t mean to sound so noble and high minded, but it really, really, really is important.”