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Rural census response could cost Montana second U.S. House seat

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“Town Crier” newsletter – Briefs from the Region (2) – 6/11/20

According to Montana Free Press, “Members of the commission tasked with redrawing Montana’s legislative boundaries following the 2020 census expressed frustration over the state’s dragging response rate in Native communities and other rural areas June 10, citing complications from the COVID-19 pandemic that have disrupted get-out-the-count effort.” With 28 out of 46 counties reporting that 30 percent or less of citizens have responded to the census, primarily rural, lawmakers are concerned how the numbers will affect Montana’s chances in gaining back a second seat in the U.S. House. “If we don’t have these rural counties and our Native populations properly counted, we’re not going to be getting that second congressman,” Republican Jeff Essmann of Billings told MTPR. Unlike urban residents, rural residents with post office boxes are virtually uncountable, as the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t mail forms to P.O. boxes, instead opting to conduct a count via physical addresses—in response, census officials had planned to drop packets off directly at 120,000 rural Montana households, an effort upended by COVID-19 until the week of May 4. Along with a U.S. House seat, which Montana will either gain or miss by an estimated margin of a few thousand counted residents, census data is also used in directing how an estimated $2 billion a year over the next decade will flow into the state.

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