At low-turnout Census event, officials worry state could lose Congressional seat
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At low-turnout Census event, officials worry state could lose Congressional seat

Date: March 15, 2010
By: Rebecca Berg
State Capitol Bureau

Cassie Lentz, 26, and Lauren Bateman, 21
JEFFERSON CITY - At an event where state lawmakers and Census officials urged Missourians to "stand up and be counted," not even belly dancers, free food and gifts 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 free food, belly dancing, gifts, music and speeches from prominent lawmakers.

But few people attended. During a presentation by U.S. Rep. Blaine Leutkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, state House Minority Leader Paul LeVota and other state and local officials, the audience consisted of fewer than 20 people.

Lori Simms, the Office of Administration spokeswoman, 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 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 of 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.

Commissioner Kelvin Simmons, the Office of Administration chair who served as the master of ceremonies for the event, said Census participation will be of great political importance to the state.

"We are on the cusp of potentially losing a congressional seat," Simmons said.

Census belly dancers attract statehouse spectators
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 capital.

Leutkemeyer said he would not predict whether the state will lose a seat.

"It's a little premature," he said. "Let's wait and see what the (Census) count is."

Earlier, in his prepared remarks, Leutkemeyer noted that he and his wife have already submitted their Census form.

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. The event Monday, Simms estimates, cost the state $500.

An employee with the U.S. Census Bureau, Eddie Hall, said marketing by the Census Bureau this year has been marked by the use of interactive and social media.

Hall pointed out one computer program on display at the event, which allows people to share their experiences concerning the Census.

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

The computer program, in addition to a television screen playing 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 a diverse tone to the day's entertainment, which included a Hispanic dance group, a local high school band and belly dancers.

"Diversity is what we wanted to capture here," said Emily Smith, an Office of Administration employee.

Smith 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.