INDIANAPOLIS — During a time when the U.S. Census Bureau would normally ramp up its operations to count the country’s citizens, a novel coronavirus has disrupted the nation, triggering millions of layoffs and killing at least 3,603 Americans.

COVID-19 prompts many to stay at home, except for essential employees, and yet less than 40% of Americans have responded to the census survey. For the first time, respondents can fill out the survey entirely online in less than 15 minutes.

“This is critically important to the state of Indiana, to every state in the country and territory, but it also gets down to the local level,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday. “This determines where funding is going. … It has a lot to do with how funds are allocated to your city or town and to the state of Indiana.”

Statewide, Indiana fared better than the national average, with just over 42% responding, 36% of them online, by the National Census Day on April 1. In 2010, nearly 70% of Hoosiers responded by the census’ end.

Many of Indiana’s Midwestern neighbors have over 40% response rates, as well, with Minnesota and Wisconsin residents reporting over 46%. States such as Alaska, Wyoming, New Mexico, West Virginia and Vermont have responded at the lowest rate, at just over 20%.

The Census Bureau has extended or delayed parts of its timeline to protect census workers, many of whom would be hired at this time to knock on doors to take responses.

“Census takers will interview about 2,000 households in remote parts of northern Maine and southeast Alaska (from March until May),” the bureau said. “They’re interviewing people outside their home, allowing six feet of space between one another.”

The self-response stage would normally end July 31, but now extends two weeks until Aug. 14.

The bureau still says it will deliver counts to President Donald Trump by Dec. 31, fulfilling its legal obligation and giving states their redistricting counts by April 1, 2021.

A cluster of counties in the southwestern part of the state, including Daviess, Pike and Dubois, have had over 50% of their residents respond. On the low end, a third of the state’s 92 counties have response rates between 31% and 40%.

The U.S. Census, conducted once a decade, determines how billions of dollars will be spent, dividing grants, federal benefits and more along population lines. Representation in the U.S. House and in state legislatures is divided using the same data.

Advocacy groups criticized state lawmakers for not taking action to reform redistricting in the 2020 legislative session and they called for a nonpartisan and transparent process.

Sen. Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, called it one of the biggest missed opportunities of the session in early March shortly before the session ended.

“It’s a real shame that another 10 years is going to go by before we take up, again, the issue of redistricting reform,” said Lanane, who authored a redistricting bill. “They (Republican leaders) didn’t give bills a hearing or any discussion whatsoever.”

House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said the redistricting process next year would be open, transparent and collaborative.

But critics, including Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, weren’t satisfied. Common Cause promotes open, transparent government.

“There’s plenty of evidence that the old system works great for supermajorities. … But it’s not working for voters across Indiana,” she said in March. “It’s not surprising to me that they (Republican leaders) don’t see the problems. But I think they’re forgetting to talk to the people who are most impacted by redistricting: the voters.”
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