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Census delays add suspense for NC voters, delay billions in grants

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The best picture of America isn't found on Google; it's in the U.S. Census.

The latest iteration of the decennial project, however, continues to be held up as analysts play catch-up on the massive data operation that was also affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It literally started the week that the stay-at-home order went into place," Stacey Carless with NC Counts Coalition said of the 2020 U.S. Census that started on April 1, 2020. "There could be duplicate records, incomplete records. Some of this is expected because it's a huge operation and there's going to be some data quality issues -- but COVID made a big impact."

Conducted every 10 years, the foundational mission of the U.S. Census is to determine the population of the United States, including who they are, where they are and what they do. As the U.S. government is based on a model of a representational republic, the Census helps determine how to apportion the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, one of two chambers in Congress (every state gets two Senators).

States with greater populations, such as California and Florida, thus have more Congress members than states with smaller populations (every state is guaranteed at least one).

Within the states, the legislature uses Census data to apportion its own districts for representation in state government. In North Carolina, the General Assembly consists of 70 seats in the House and 50 in the Senate.

Populations, of course, change over time, with many people moving between states for a variety of reasons, so the Census taking place every 10 years is an important update to the system.

After the 2010 Census, North Carolina was granted 13 congressional districts. According to estimates, the Tar Heel State could get its 14th district because of the growing population. If North Carolina does gain a seat, it will come at the expense of a state which has had a declining population.

 The same principles apply within the state, as areas such as Raleigh and Charlotte could stand to gain a greater proportion of seats in the General Assembly than some areas that have seen a decline in population.

"It really dictates North Carolina's political power down to the electoral college. It makes it a much more influential state," Carless added. "When you have that additional congressman, and an additional electoral college vote, it says a lot about North Carolina playing into the national scene."

The Census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790 when there was a reported population of 3,929,214 in the nation's then 13 states. The 2010 Census measured the U.S. population at 308,745,538 in 50 states.

Besides representation, the results of the Census determine federal funding that totals more than $675 billion toward services such as health care, public safety, education and transportation, so the stakes couldn't be higher.

"We're looking at $1,623 per person per year in federal funds and added to that is about $205 per person per year in state funds that are apportioned based on census numbers," Bob Coates, the Governor's Census Liaison, told ABC11.

The general population data on apportionment, which was originally due by Dec. 31, is now due later this month. The latter part of the Census, which includes the enormous report on demographics, gender, age and households down to every block, is delayed until September.