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Montana has a huge stake in having every one of its residents counted in the 2020 census.

Our state is the largest of 435 U.S. House districts by population. Montana came up just slightly short of enough people to have two districts in the 1990, 2000 and 2010 counts. Election Data Services recently reported that it's possible for Montana to regain the second seat, which it lost in the 1990 census. That political consulting firm projects that Montana could gain a seat now allocated to Rhode Island.

Not all assessments of 2020 population agree that Montana may gain a seat, and even Election Data Services says it would be close, with probably no more than 2,400 residents to spare.

So it is vitally important that every Montanan be counted in the next decennial census. That's why the U.S. Census Bureau budget controversy in Washington is a local issue for Montana.

The Trump administration proposed a 2018 census budget far below what the Census Bureau said it needed to keep preparations on track for the big 2020 count. Congress has yet to send an annual federal appropriations bill to the president's desk. The latest short-term spending bill expires this month.

Meanwhile, the testing of new technology for the census has been delayed. Tests of how that technology would work in rural areas, including Indian reservations, has been cancelled.

The 2020 census will be the first conducted primarily online. The federal government expects to hire less than half as many employees to conduct the 2020 count as were hired for the 2010 count. To encourage U.S. residents to respond to the census, the Census Bureau had extensive plans for outreach in areas that are hard to count. Those plans are in limbo, awaiting funding.

Guess what? Hard-to-count areas include rural America — isolated homes and towns where a lot of people get their mail at a post office box rather than a city address.

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Then there's the leap in technology. Much of rural America lacks the access to the internet that urban Americans have enjoyed for years. The Census Bureau needs resources to reach out to those people and count them.

"Hard-to-count communities are not confined to urban areas," Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told a U.S. House oversight committee in October. "It may be less well known, but rural and remote communities, including American Indian tribal lands and reservations, are also vulnerable to disproportionate undercounting in the decennial census, with lower income households especially at risk. Eighty-seven percent of the hardest-to-count counties in the 2010 Census were rural counties."

In Montana, prominent Democrats and Republicans interviewed by The Gazette's Tom Lutey agreed on the tremendous value of regaining the House seat lost 30 years ago. Having two representatives for our great, big state would provide better, more equal representation to Montana's 1 million-plus residents.

We're not going to get that representation unless all of us get counted. We call on Montana's congressional delegation to be Census champions. Fight for adequate funding that will assure the Census Bureau has the resources to fulfill its constitutional duty. Give Montana a fair chance for equitable representation in the U.S. House.

— Billings (Mont.) Gazette

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