About the Census

Every ten years the federal government conducts a federal census to obtain an enumeration or “head count” of all people residing in the United States. Current law provided that census data was to be delivered to the fifty states by April 1, 2021. As of March 1, 2021, due to the Covid-19 pandemic the United States Census Bureau (Census Bureau) told the states that it would deliver the census data to the individual states by September 30, 2021. The census includes basic demographic data, including total population by age, race, housing, and housing occupancy.

In early May 2021, the Census Bureau released total population data for Arkansas as follows:

Resident Population: 3,011,534  (people actually residing inside the state)

Apportionment Population: 3,013,756  (residents plus Arkansas citizens {e.g., soldiers} abroad without a fixed residence)

The Census Bureau divides the entire United States into “census blocks.” A census block is a particular geographically defined area identifiable by natural and manmade boundaries (rivers, roads, county and city lines, etc.). Until the Census Bureau releases data for the local “census blocks” representing counties, cities, towns, and rural areas, redistricting cannot begin. The census counts the people living in a particular block. Some large blocks such as a national forest, park, or large farm, may have few or no people residing within that block. Other census blocks may be very small in area (such as a tall apartment building) and have hundreds of residents. The blocks and corresponding census data are then loaded into mapmaking software. The software will draw or map the desired number of districts with an equal number of people using the blocks’ shapes and numbers of residents. Usually, the drawing begins at known fixed points and places, such as the state-border corners, the center of the state, or at existing districts, county lines, rivers, etc. The software fits the blocks into a mosaic.  A computer can and has created as many as 10100  (a googol) maps for any number of districts in any given area, from the size of the head of a pin to the size of the earth.

What a computer cannot do is define limits or set conditions. A computer must be programmed to recognize sociocultural and geographic features, such as a distinct community of interest, a military base, a college, a steel town, a river, a national park, or a sizeable neighborhood sharing a common religion or trade. The software must be programmed to draw compact districts (no sprawling or “octopus-looking” districts); recognize cities, towns, and precincts; and to recognize racial and ethnic minorities and language groups.  In short, the census data are used to create state legislative districts that are substantially equal, subject to certain redistricting guidelines discussed under the “About the Process” tab. This is the task of the Board of Apportionment.

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