The nation’s largest peace time endeavor – the once-in-every-10 year nationwide census – will happen in the first part of next year and the stakes for Montana couldn’t be higher. An additional seat in Congress – double the single seat we have now – along with millions of dollars in federal funding will hang in the balance.

Unfortunately, the 2020 census has already been infused with political controversy. The Trump administration wanted to include a question about whether respondents are U.S. citizens. That was shot down by the U.S. Supreme Court. But lingering fears over the issue may prompt some to not respond to census questionnaires.

That would be a big mistake.

Montana lost its second seat in the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1990 census, cutting the state’s representation in that body by half. The state’s diminished voice in the House has cost us dearly – especially when the remaining single seat is filled with someone in the House’s minority party, as is the case today.

But more than just a seat in Congress, the census also determines the amount of federal funds the states receive for things like Medicaid and public transportation. The count will also be used to determine how state legislative district boundaries are drawn.

Some worry that non-citizens’ will not participate over fears they will be deported if they respond to the census. And others will object on the perception census takers are intruding into their private lives. But everyone needs to be reassured they do not have to answer questions about their religion, race or ethnicity. And the citizenship question will not be included on the 2020 census forms.

For the city of Bozeman, the census will likely have special consequences. It is expected the city’s population will top 50,000, moving Bozeman from the list of “micropolitan” areas to the list of “metropolitan” areas. More than just a statistical designation, this will have significant ramifications for the city’s eligibility for federal dollars for a variety of programs.

The census is still some months away, but it’s not too soon to start thinking about how we will respond. It’s vital for the future of our state and community that everyone is counted.

Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Don Beeman, community member
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Sarabeth Rees, community member
  • David Swingle, community member

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