When’s the census deadline? It’s unclear, but officials say, ‘Fill it out today.’

By: - September 29, 2020 3:31 pm

U.S. Census Bureau

Michigan is wrapping up critical census response collection efforts on Wednesday amid confusion over the national deadline.

Despite a court ruling last week to uphold the original deadline on Oct. 31, the U.S. Census Bureau, headed by President Trump’s Department of Commerce, is moving ahead with a deadline of Oct. 5.

Kerry Ebersole Singh, the director of the Michigan 2020 Statewide Census campaign, said that while the directives from the federal government and court may be unclear, she is clear on one thing: Fill out the census today.

“The date is neither here nor there. If you haven’t done it, do it today and then there’s nothing to be worried about,” Ebersole Singh said. 


The census effort was hampered during the COVID-19 pandemic and plagued by controversy with the Trump administration’s failed attempt to include a citizenship question.

Originally, the deadline to fill out the census was Oct. 31. But in late July, the Census Bureau quietly moved the end date for all census-taking operations from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh had ruled there wasn’t sufficient reasoning to change the Oct. 31 deadline and blocked the federal government from going forward with the early deadline.

However, on Monday, the U.S. Census Bureau issued a press release defying the ruling and stating that Oct. 5 is the new deadline to conclude 2020 Census self-response and field data collection operations.

A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday evening after Koh ordered government lawyers to produce documents related to the decision to set Oct. 5 as the deadline. 

The census determines how much federal funding Michigan receives for public safety, health care, education, roads and infrastructure through 2030. For every person that goes uncounted, the state could lose $1,800 of federal funds each year, according to the Council of Michigan Foundations.

Michigan census officials don’t have time to wait around for final answers on the ever-changing target date.


On Monday evening, an hour after the U.S. Census Bureau tweeted about the updated deadline, the Michigan Census Office urged Michiganders on Twitter to fill out the survey, adding “don’t wait — the deadline is Sept. 30!”

Ebersole Singh said she hasn’t been in direct contact with the U.S. Census Bureau, but is once again adjusting to the new deadline. She believes Michigan enumerators will continue to do non-response follow-up surveys until Oct. 5. 

“We have, from a state perspective, no control over what the feds end up doing and no control over the federal courts, so all we can say is, it’s really important to our communities,” Ebersole Singh said. “Fill it out. Do your community good.” 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently named Ebersole Singh the senior adviser and director of the Sixty by 30 office within the Labor and Economic Office to help with the governor’s goal to ensure 60% of working-age Michiganders will have an industry recognized certificate or college degree by 2030.

State Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) renewed his call Tuesday for the Legislature to take up House Resolution 304 to restore the Oct. 31 deadline for census data collection.


“The Census Bureau’s ability to collect data from households has been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially their ability to go door-to-door as they have in the past,” Carter said. “The mission of the census is to ensure every single person is counted, so it’s only logical that we provide the time necessary to accomplish that goal. Unfortunately, Trump is either disinterested in ensuring everyone is counted or is actively attempting to exclude people. This has been far from a normal year and we have had to develop creative solutions to many problems. The census is no different.”

The resolution was referred to the House Committee of Government Operations for review.

The “Michigan Be Counted” campaign, a collaboration between the state of Michigan, U.S. Census Bureau and the Michigan Nonprofit Association, is the largest in state history with an unprecedented $16 million allocated by the state Legislature for census outreach and participation.

The campaign set out with a big goal of 82% participation for the 2020 census. 

The majority of Michiganders who have filled out the census — 71% — filled it out online, by phone or by mail, while 27.6% of households in the state were counted by census takers and other field data collection operations, which began Aug. 11 statewide.

Because the participation rate is calculated differently than the response rates, Ebersole Singh said that they believe if Michigan reaches a total self-response rate of 71.7% then the state will be able to reach its total goal for the campaign. 

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.