Seattle Foundation Blog

Former Governor Gary Locke’s Perspectives on Census 2020

He shared his insights about the decade’s worth of data, decision-making, democracy, and dollars that are at stake 

August 01, 2019

Drawing on his experience overseeing Census 2010, Former Governor Gary Locke shared his insights with Seattle Foundation philanthropists and community partners about the decade’s worth of data, decision-making, democracy, and dollars that are at stake and discussing how we can invest in generating a fair, accurate and inclusive count of all in Washington State. 

The exclusive Conversation with Gary Locke was held at Seattle Foundation on June 25. Locke is also chair of Washington State’s Complete Count Committee, which combines the expertise and knowledge of a representative group of local community, business, philanthropic, and elected leaders to strategize about how to educate Washington state residents about the census and engender trust is the process. 

As U.S. Secretary of Commerce overseeing the 2010 Census, Gary Locke has the highest level of experience with the census and what’s involved with its successful execution.  While many view the census simply as a constitutionally mandated count of people living in the United States, Locke focused his remarks on how it is increasingly about shaping and allocating power in increasingly influential ways on our country.  

Central to this issue is the proposed inclusion of a citizenship question in Census 2020.  Locke predicts this will result in an unprecedented undercount.  He noted that there is significant work that goes on in census validation following the count, however it is the initial count that is used for the allocation of congressional seats and representation in state legislatures. Subsequent data corrections are not taken into account, which is why it is so critical that the census count has to be done right the first time. Further, while the Constitution states the census is to count all people living in the United States, some believe a count of citizens should be the basis for apportionment of state and national representation.  This makes the potential of citizenship question even more concerning.

The Supreme Court recent ruling temporarily blocks the citizenship question from being included in Census 2020 and delays a final decision on the issue, but there are many other factors that may contribute to an undercount. These include a new online format, a lack of testing, and a shortage of federal funding for outreach.

Locke said the key to a fair, accurate and inclusive count will be outreach and education, delivered by trusted members of communities.  Organizations with deep community relationships and long-established trust must be funded and equipped to get out the “be counted” message and offset the fear many feel about census participation.  Whether it be through extensive door-to-door canvassing, community meetings, faith-based gatherings or school involvement, outreach by trusted community members is essential.

One of the philanthropic-led efforts supporting this work is Seattle Foundation’s Regional Census Fund. SeaFdn contributed $500,000 to this effort and is administering the fund. The City of Seattle and King County each invested $250,000. Launched on April 15, it supports trusted community-based organizations to conduct effective outreach, including organizing, educating and activating residents in historically underrepresented communities such as communities of color, immigrants and refugees, native people, LGBTQ residents and others.  We are raising additional funds so that we can support more nonprofits requesting grants for community outreach.  

To learn more about the Regional Census Fund or support this work, please contact your Philanthropic Advisor or Aaron Robertson, Managing Director of Policy and Civic Engagement, at




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