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Missouri officials worry about participation in 2010 census

Monday, March 15, 2010 | 5:54 p.m. CDT; updated 7:19 p.m. CDT, Thursday, March 25, 2010
Vicky Banda of the Hispanic Heritage Dance Group performs on the steps of the state Capitol on Monday. The performance was part of the rally to promote the U.S. Census. The rally was held to help encourage census participation. The state could lose one of its seats in Congress this year.

JEFFERSON CITY — At an event where state lawmakers and U.S. Census Bureau officials urged Missourians to "stand up and be counted," not even belly dancers and free food could entice people to show up.

The 2010 census "Portrait of America Road Tour" pulled up to the state Capitol on Monday for a promotional event to encourage participation in the U.S. Census. Organizers attempted to draw crowds with gifts, music and speeches from prominent lawmakers.

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But few people attended. During a presentation by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, the Republican representing Missouri's 9th District, state House Minority Leader Paul LeVota and other state and local officials, the audience consisted of fewer than 20 people.

Lori Simms, spokeswoman for the Office of Administration, said the weather likely limited the turnout.

"Because it's cold, a lot of people went inside," Simms said.

Two state employees, Linda Albin and Betty Lock, braved the chilly weather to eat hot dogs and chips from the event on the steps of the state Capitol. They said they enjoyed the free food, but they were not convinced the event would result in greater census participation.

"If people aren't already aware of the census, this isn't going to help," Lock said regarding the food and entertainment.

The stakes for the 2010 census are high. If Missouri's population is counted as too low, the state could lose federal funding and one of its nine congressional districts.

"We are on the cusp of potentially losing a congressional seat," said Commissioner Kelvin Simmons said, the Office of Administration chair who served as the master of ceremonies for the event.

Simmons said losing a seat in Congress would be "significant" for the state and would result in state legislators losing power in the nation's Capitol.

Dennis Johnson, the census regional director, said he is working with local officials and media outlets to educate people about the census and promote higher participation than in past years.

"Our goal is to make sure people send in their forms," Johnson said. "We want to make sure we have more accurate information."

Getting that information has required billions of dollars in federal funding. Approximately $15 billion was appropriated by the federal government to fund the census. Simms estimates, the Monday event cost the state $500.

Eddie Hall, an employee with the U.S. Census Bureau, said the Census Bureau used interactive and social media for its marketing this year.

At the event, Hall pointed out a computer program, which allows people to share their experiences concerning the census.

"It's the government's attempt to be hip," Hall said.

The computer program and a television screen showing census-related content were both available to people wishing to learn more; however, there were no sample census forms on hand.

Organizers of the event also said they were seeking diverse entertainment for the event, which included a Hispanic dance group and a local high school band.

Emily Smith, an Office of Administration employee, said she invited belly dancers to dance on the steps of the Capitol to further that message of multiculturalism.

"We want everyone to be counted," she said.


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