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Understanding the Count Question Resolution Operation

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Since the 1990 Census, we’ve given tribal, state and local governments the opportunity to request a review of their once-a-decade census counts. Recently, we began notifying eligible governments to offer this opportunity again through the 2020 Census Count Question Resolution operation (CQR). We also published a Federal Register notice announcing this plan in more detail.

This blog explains what CQR entails, how it works and what it affects.

Improving Quality for the Decade to Come

The U.S. Census Bureau is confident in the 2020 Census results and their fitness for use in apportionment and redistricting. We had numerous quality checks built into collecting the data and conducted the most comprehensive pre-publication review in recent census history. Overall, we found the results were comparable to the population benchmarks we examined. More information is available on our 2020 Census Data Quality webpage.

Nevertheless, no census is perfect. CQR allows us to research certain types of potential errors and issue errata if errors are confirmed. The corrected counts can help the affected governments plan and apply for future funding. They also enable us to update the baseline numbers we use to calculate population estimates each year, yielding higher-quality information for the tribal, state or local areas throughout the decade.

CQR does not, however, change the apportionment counts, redistricting data or any other 2020 Census data products.

How CQR Works

As the Federal Register Notice describes in more detail, there are limitations on who can submit a CQR request and what kind of situations are in scope for review.

CQR requests can only be submitted by the highest elected or appointed official (or their representative) from the following active, functioning governmental units:

  • Tribal areas, including federally recognized American Indian tribes with reservation and/or reservation trust lands, Alaska Native Regional Corporations, and Alaska Native villages.
  • States and equivalent entities.
  • Counties and equivalent entities.
  • Minor civil divisions (e.g., townships).
  • Consolidated cities.
  • Incorporated places (e.g., villages, towns, cities).

Governments with questions about their counts can request a review in the following situations:  

  • Boundary cases. We can review legal government unit boundaries in effect as of January 1, 2020, and the associated addresses affected by the boundaries. In other words, we can review whether our maps accurately reflected the boundaries of a tribal area, county, township or other geography and make sure all the housing units, group quarters or other addresses were counted on the correct side of those boundaries.
  • Housing Count cases. We can review the geographic location or placement of housing and associated population as well as the census results to determine whether census processing error(s) excluded valid housing and associated population data. In other words, we can review whether housing units, group quarters or other addresses were put in the correct place on our maps.

Governments may submit a CQR case requesting a review of both their boundaries and their housing counts. Situations outside of these types of cases are out of scope for a CQR correction. For example, the CQR process doesn’t examine whether respondents or census takers incorrectly determined an address’ occupancy status or household size during field operations.

Also, addresses that were not on our list for the census to begin with or that were not added during the enumeration process cannot be added and cannot be corrected by the CQR operation. Our field quality control efforts were in place to address those sorts of errors. No new data collection or field work will take place—this is not an opportunity to re-do the census or to conduct additional data collection.

Instead, once an inquiry is made for a given area, CQR focuses on confirming whether the data we did collect in the census were processed correctly. If something we did collect was overlooked in later steps (e.g., a page from a paper listing was not scanned so the associated data were not included in the census count), the Census Bureau can make a correction. However, if the information collected during census operations was processed correctly, no correction is possible under the CQR operation. Once we receive the requests for a review, we research the cases and resolve them in one of three ways: 

  • Identify corrections and update census records. If we identify eligible CQR corrections, we will update census records. We will re-geocode all verified addresses and move them to the correct tabulation block. We may also move addresses that were not part of a request if they are affected by a valid boundary change. 
  • Close the case without making changes. If no CQR-eligible corrections are found, no updates to census records will be made.
  • Determine the case is out of scope. If the submission does not meet eligibility requirements, we’ll determine it out of scope for CQR and make no changes to census records.  

The Census Bureau will contact the inquiring governmental unit regardless of the outcome.

Timing

This month, we began sharing more information directly with the eligible governments about how to submit a case. Our website contains detailed participant guides, along with other helpful information.

We will begin accepting CQR cases January 3, 2022. The deadline for submitting a case is June 30, 2023. We will provide results on a rolling basis through September 30, 2023, to the highest elected or appointed official of all affected governments. We will also post results as errata on census.gov. To comply with the confidentiality protections of Title 13, we will not be able to disclose specific details about the cases.

We will respond to all CQR requests even if a request is out of scope. 

Reviewing Group Quarters Populations

Beginning in the Spring of next year, the Census Bureau has proposed allowing tribal, state and local governmental units the opportunity to request the Census Bureau to review their population counts for group quarter facilities through a separate program, the 2020 Post-Census Group Quarters Review (2020 PCGQR). This mechanism would allow the Census Bureau to collect information in support of its ongoing programs, such as the intercensal population estimates and the American Community Survey. 

PCGQR is in response to feedback we received from the initial Federal Register Notice about CQR wherein commenters requested expanding the scope of CQR related to group quarters, such as college dorms, nursing homes and prisons. We initially considered allowing governments to submit CQR cases requesting a review of group quarters population counts that would have considered administrative records supplied by the government as part of their submission.

However, federal law requires data collection for the decennial census to end once the apportionment results are delivered to Congress and the president. Therefore, the Census Bureau cannot continue collecting response data for the census through the CQR operation.

CQR can only correct errors that occurred during the processing of information collected during the 2020 enumeration.

Summary

The CQR operation will begin in January. We’ve shared information with eligible governments ahead of time on how to participate. While participation won’t impact 2020 Census data products, it will help us improve the population estimates for communities — and the demographic surveys pegged to those estimates — for the decade to come.

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