CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice issued an executive order Wednesday officially establishing the West Virginia Complete Count Commission, which is tasked with ensuring that all West Virginians are counted in the 2020 Census.
The commission will act in an advisory capacity to the governor and have two main objectives: to educate and encourage full participation by state residents in the 2020 Census, and to develop plans and strategies to reach isolated groups or areas that typically do not respond to the census.
Members of the committee will represent 27 different state and federal agencies, including representatives from the state’s congressional delegation, representatives from Marshall University and West Virginia University, and nonprofit agencies, such as the American Red Cross.
The executive order establishes that the commission will meet at least quarterly, and as often as required to fulfill its objectives.
By Jan. 1, 2020, the commission is charged with providing a preliminary report to the governor with the status of the 2020 Census efforts and recommendations on additional steps to achieve a complete count of the state’s population.
A complete and accurate count of West Virginia’s population is important because it will determine the number of representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives apportioned to West Virginia and the federal formula grant allocations and play a role in redistricting for the next 10 years until the next decennial census.
More than 24% of West Virginians are considered to be living in hard-to-count communities. Meanwhile, the census is moving primarily online for the first time when an estimated quarter of the state’s population has little to no internet access.
Nonprofit groups said these are significant challenges to ensure a complete census count in a state that has seen deaths outweighing births within the past year and more people moving out of the state than the number moving in.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people living in “hard-to-count” communities require greater resources to reach and are more likely to be missed in the people count.
These communities are found across the state, but most share defining characteristics that may make an undercount likely, including rural, low-income, high-immigrant and homeless populations, as well as children, renters and ethnic or racial minorities.
A complete census count is more challenging in certain counties like Mingo, Logan and Wyoming, where 100% of the population is considered hard to count, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s map of hard-to-count communities. In some counties, such as Cabell and Kanawha, large swaths of its cities risk being missed in the 2020 Census. In Huntington, those living downtown and in the Fairfield neighborhood will most likely require door-to-door followup visits from a census worker. In Charleston, a large section of North Charleston will likely require followup visits, according to the map.
After the census takes place, the commission will provide a final report by July 1, 2021, summarizing its activities and suggesting improvements for the 2030 Census.
In addition to the state commission, several municipalities across West Virginia have been establishing their own “Complete Count” Task Forces.
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