• “A worker came to my home and she was very hostile. She said that it was mandatory that we fill out the Census. We told her we already did the Census. She said we had to fill it out. We told her that we were under the impression that the Census was voluntary. She went on to say that there was personal information that was needed. We did report her to our local police department.”

Following the theme of the last quote, the next set of complaints concerns the mandatory nature of response:

  • “In which country am I living [if this is mandatory]?”
  • “I am only responding so I do not have to pay a fine—but I am EXTREMELY uncomfortable about providing this information” (Tordella emphasized that “extremely” was written in all-capitals).
  • “Being forced to complete a survey like this gives me the feeling of being a disenfranchised federal tax-paying citizen with no option but to shut up, fill out the survey used to distribute money that we don’t have, and pay higher taxes.”

Other complaints are fewer in number but can be particularly vocal and passionate. Tordella said that worries about whether the ACS questionnaire is really a scam seem to be particularly acute among the elderly and infirm; their surrogates or caretakers will make appeals and inquiries raising that concern. Other complaints question the constitutionality of the ACS and the degree of overlap between the ACS and other agencies’ data sources. He closed the recitation of common complaints by reading a longer quote from one letter:

I find this American Community Survey to be appalling, invasive, and intrusive, and none of the government’s business and I intend to let my senators and congressmen know how I feel. Take note of that.

And, Tordella concluded, “a good number of them do.” Even if it is 1 in 1,000, “these are legitimate and heartfelt beliefs,” and that is the backdrop against which the ACS must operate. He said that these kinds of complaints are never going to go away completely—but neither are they a completely new phenomenon. He recalled being interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio during the preparations for the 1980 census; reviewing some of the reported complaints about the ACS brought back memories of that day in Wisconsin because many of the same issues and claims of harassment by the census were raised then.

The dots are not hard to connect concerning the way these kinds of ACS complaints register on Capitol Hill, Tordella said. Congress is necessarily “part of the complaint bureau for the ACS”—their staff members field these kind of complaints and the ACS, being in continuous operation, spurs such complaints every week of the year—“and Congress controls your budget.” To be sure, he added, Congress is a diverse body just as the American public is diverse, and so contains a range of views on the role of the government in the census and



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