Our census form arrived in the mail last week. I opened it and began to fill out the little boxes. It asked for information on “Person #1.” After a little thought and discussion, I entered my husband’s name.
After many years of marriage, one has to pick their battles, and this was one I didn’t even want to start. I entered my information as “Person #2.” Then I looked for what should be filled out next. There are spaces for Persons 3, 4, 5, and all the way to 12. With only two now in our household, it seemed too easy. I folded the completed form and slipped it into the reply envelope. That was perhaps the trickiest part. Make sure that the black computer scan lines show up in the envelope window correctly. A quick seal, no stamp needed, and our census form was ready for the next day’s mail.
This week, we received a post card from the Census Bureau reminding us, just in case we forgot, that we are required by law to return our completed census form. It was the first reminder, but I suspect it won’t be the last. Although gathered every decade by the federal government, the census data is important for all of us, whether at the federal, state, or local levels. According to the United States Constitution, the census counts state population and determines representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. That, in turn, aids the federal government in allocating more than $400 billion to states and communities. Census data also helps local decision-makers plan for new roads, hospitals, schools, and more.
Let’s look at the representation issue, the one identified in the Constitution. In Virginia, the results of the 1990 census revealed that the state population grew enough to require another congressional seat, and Northern Virginia’s 11th Congressional District, now held by former Fairfax County Board Chairman Gerry Connolly, was created. Similarly, the population information for Fairfax County will guide redrawing the boundaries of the Supervisor districts. In 2000, most Supervisor districts gained or lost precincts to account for growth. Mason District grew by just one precinct, Leewood, which was carved from a large North Springfield precinct because Mason needed only a small adjustment in population.
Since 2000, when the county population was 969,000, forecasts assume that the county population will be about 1,054,000 persons, an increase of 85,000. If you divide 85,000 people by nine Supervisor districts, it is likely that each district will increase by 9500 people, and the boundary lines redrawn to balance that growth. Although one could guess, we don’t know exactly where that growth will be most prevalent, so we don’t know exactly where the lines will have to be redrawn. Complicating the redistricting challenge is that 2011 is an election year for the Board of Supervisors, the School Board, the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, and the entire General Assembly. Since the census data may not be distributed to states until March of 2011, there is a very real possibility that some state and local redistricting will not be complete until just before the party primaries (if any) are held in June. Candidates, incumbent or not, might find themselves running in districts that are almost entirely new to them. That problem is not likely in the Supervisor districts, where redrawing boundaries probably will be done with a scalpel. However, in 2000, the General Assembly, then as now dominated by Republicans, used a meat axe to redesign the Senate and Delegate districts, and overwhelmingly changed the political map, moving some incumbents right out of their previous districts. You don’t need to wait until April 1, Census Day, to return your completed form. Do it now, and cross one more task off your “to do” list.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org