How to Complete the Census

The 2020 Census is underway – make sure you’re counted.

Here’s all the information you’ll need to fill out the Census!

Your participation helps determine the distribution of political power and money from the federal government to our communities. Rock the Vote remains committed to getting a complete and accurate count despite the disruptions of COVID-19.

When will I get the Census?

Households across the country received letters from the Census Bureau with detailed information on how to participate in the Census starting in mid-March.

Those living in group quarters like homeless shelters, college dorms, and senior centers will be visited by Census takers or the administrators of those areas – this typically occurs in either March or April, but the timing may have shifted due to COVID-19. Please note that this does not apply to college students who were living in off-campus housing for the Spring 2020 semester – you will fill out the Census yourself.

How do I fill out the Census?

You can fill out the Census by phone, by mail, or online at my2020census.gov. You should have received an invitation  in the mail by April 1 with detailed information about how to respond, but you don’t need this invitation in order to complete the Census, so no worries if you recycled it!

If you are living in group quarters, like homeless shelters, college dorms, and senior centers, the administrator of your residence will be in charge of filling out the Census. Please note that this does not apply to college students who were living in off-campus housing for the Spring 2020 semester – you will fill out the Census yourself.

When is the deadline to submit?

Due to COVID-19, the Census Bureau has made changes to operations and pushed back deadlines to protect the safety of workers and the public and to ensure a complete and accurate count. October 31, 2020 is the last day for households to self-respond online, by phone or by mail. However, you should try to complete the Census as soon as possible.

Starting July 16, Census workers are tentatively scheduled to begin follow up with unresponsive households in 6 locations. At this time, follow up in additional states will start on August 11 and continue through October 31.

To reduce the number of in-person follow ups and prevent the spread of COVID-19, households should complete their Census form as early as possible, ideally by August 11 but no later than October 31.

Who should be counted in the Census?

The rule of thumb is that anyone who is living in your household on Census Day, April 1, 2020, should be counted.

  • This includes babies, roommates, friends or family members who are living with you most of the time, and anyone who is residing with you who does not have a residence somewhere else.
  • Even if someone is not on the lease, or your landlord doesn’t know they live there, you should count them – the information you provide to the Census Bureau is confidential.
  • Undocumented immigrants also count in the Census, and the 2020 Census will not have a citizenship question. The Census Bureau is required by law to keep the information that they collect confidential. As such, they are not allowed to report undocumented immigrants to other government agencies.
  • Short-term visitors are not counted in the Census. However, citizens of other countries who are living in the United States long-term, including foreign nationals studying in the United States during the Spring 2020 semester, should be counted.

If you were temporarily living somewhere else on April 1 due to COVID-19, you should complete the Census as if you were still at the address where you planned to reside on April 1. For example, college students displaced due to the pandemic should complete the Census for their campus address (see more below).

How secure is the information I give the Census?

The Census Bureau is required by law to protect the personal information that they collect from you. They cannot even share it with other government agencies. Every employee of the Census Bureau has to swear an oath to keep your responses protected for life. If an employee violates the oath, they can face up to 5 years in prison and/or be fined $250,000.

The Census Bureau will only use your responses to produce statistics about your community. By law, this information must remain confidential and cannot be used against you in court or by any government agency.

The Census Bureau also takes measures to protect people’s responses from hacking and other cybersecurity threats. In order to keep information as secure as possible, your responses will be taken offline as soon as they are received by the Census Bureau.

If I’m in college, how do I fill out the Census?

If you were living with family members and/or in off-campus housing as of April 1, your household should have received a letter from the Census Bureau with instructions on how to fill out the Census. You should make sure that you are counted as a part of the household that you are living in.

If you were living on-campus or in university housing as of April 1, you should be contacted by housing administrators who are in charge of counting students for the Census.

If you were studying abroad on April 1, 2020, you will not be counted in the Census. If you are a foreign national who was studying in the United States during the Spring 2020 semester (this includes undocumented students), you should be counted in the Census.

How should students displaced from their campus residence due to COVID-19 complete the Census?

The Census Bureau is proceeding as if students were still at their campus (either on- or off-campus) residences, not at whatever residence they relocated to because of COVID-19 closures. This is because under normal circumstances, your campus community is where you’d be living and sleeping most of the time, and we want to ensure those communities receive appropriate resources and representation for their typical populations.

Students displaced from on-campus housing: If you were living on campus or in university housing, you will be counted through your university. You will be contacted by housing administrators who are in charge of counting students for the Census.

Students displaced from off-campus housing: You should still complete the Census for your off-campus address, even if you have left the area. Even if you do not have your address-specific Census ID, you can still complete the Census by selecting the “If you do not have a Census ID, click here” link on the online questionnaire‘s Address Verification/Log In screen.

Is the Census available in languages other than English?

Yes, the Census will be available online and by phone in 12 non-English languages:

  • Arabic
  • Chinese (online: Simplified; by phone: Mandarin and Cantonese)
  • French
  • Haitian Creole
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Polish
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Tagalog
  • Vietnamese

The online Census meets accessibility guidelines and includes a video in American Sign Language to guide you through responding.

The paper form can be completed in Spanish.

The Census Bureau also provides translated web pages and guides in 59 non-English languages, including American Sign Language, as well as guides in braille and large print.

What information will I need to fill out the Census?

You will need to know information about the people living in your household on April 1, 2020. Such information includes:

  • The number of people who are living or staying in your home.
  • The name, date of birth, sex*, and race of each person.
  • The relationship of each person to a central person in your home.
  • The phone number of one person in your home.
  • Whether your home is owned or rented.

*The Census will ask for your legal sex (e.g., your assigned sex at birth). Rock the Vote recognizes that the sex options on the Census won’t fit everyone, but the Census will ask you to identify each person in your household as male or female.

If you are living in group quarters, like homeless shelters, college dorms, and senior centers, the administrator of your residence will be in charge of filling out the Census. Please note that this does not apply to college students who were living in off-campus housing for the Spring 2020 semester – you will fill out the Census yourself.

What if I don’t know how to answer a question?

You should contact the Census Bureau at 1-800-354-7271 if you need assistance while filling out the Census.

You can also contact the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Census hotline with questions or problems at 888-COUNT20 (888-286-6820) or 888Count20@lawyerscommittee.org.