After several anxious days of waiting—watching out my office window for the faithful U. S. Postal truck—I finally received mine. Have you gotten yours? I sure hope so, because there isn’t much time—We The People—134 million households of us—have a deadline.
In fact, there is a very special day coming up. It’s called Census Day 2010. And, are you ready for this—it’s scheduled for April 1ST. That’s right, the moment we honor fools and play tricks on everybody is the official day to recognize, if not return, our Census forms. Census Day started out in 1790 as the first Monday in August. It was moved to June in 1830, then to April 15 in 1910, and by 1940 to the first day of April.
Obviously, most Americans are well aware of this decennial process of counting everyone. After all, we’ve been seeing all those very cool commercials. I saw one the other day, having made the mistake of watching a show that hadn’t been dvr’d, that mentioned how important it was to fill out the form and send it back. The spokesperson warned: “You won’t get your fair share, if you don’t send it back.”
Fair share? Fair share of what?
If I read my history correctly—and I do—the whole idea of a census from the beginning had to do with having our fair say. When the U.S. Constitution was ratified and became the ever-since law of the land, it specified in Article 1, Section 2, that a census, or “enumeration” should be scheduled within three years of the first meeting of the Congress, and then every ten years, thereafter. The first such census was conducted in 1790 and it has been repeated every decade since.
Even in its early days the idea of a national head count was not without controversy. There was something at least a little disconcerting about individuals ceding personal information to government, no matter how small or general that data might have been. The purpose of all of this had purely to do with the apportionment of representation in Congress, the various districts being determined by population.
That remains one purpose of the every-decade-nose-count in America, and it is a vitally important one. If an area has lost population, districts are redrawn and Congressional representation adjusted accordingly—and vice versa for growing areas. So the political stakes are real—and high.