One Thing You Still Can't Do Online

These days, you can do pretty much anything online, except for one: submit your U.S. census forms. A new website,, aims to change that, partially by “sham[ing] the U.S. Census Office for not having a method of online submission.” The website asks the same questions as the 2010 U.S. Census, but allows users to submit their answers online and see real-time statistics (as of April 1, 2010). The website also includes a petition urging the U.S. Census Office “to make an online submission option a higher priority.”[%comments]

Neil (SM)

>>"Not everyone has access to an online forum."

So what? It doesn't have to be *only* online. But the option would be nice.

Obviously there would have to be security and safeguards in place to prevent nefarious acts or false entries. But somehow the IRS and other government agencies manage to do that -- why couldn't the census?

Jon Webb

If there was a way to submit on-line you would at least eliminate the mailing costs for the returned form and data entry costs. This is a significant expense. And for some people entering the form on-line is easier than filling out a printed form.
It is possible to design the website to tie the on-line submission to the form you got in the mail, for example by entering a code from the printed form. There may be a way to hack this but I can't think of one.
Having both options would probably increase the response rate and save money.

Eric M. Jones

I have a pilot license, and once a year the FAA sends a note that says (essentially) "If you get this, never mind".

The point being that a pilot legally has to have a valid address on file. If the post office returns the FAA letter to sender...ah-oh... the next guy you see will have a badge.

I suppose the census form is just ho-hum, but to believe the government can be trusted is a hilarious misreading of recent history. And that's too bad.


I also cannot eat online, and I haven't heard anyone talk about fixing this major shortfall of modern technology. Think about what it could do for the productivity of office workers.


Not to mention the struggling paper companies!


Agreed with many of the previous comments re:
* address location being important
* lack of univeral internet access

but Terry's comment about hacking makes everything else moot. Truly secure systems are a pain in the ass. You think all you'd have to do is signup your own account, and add some data? Maybe fill out a surveymonkey form? Please. There are lots of things you can't do on the internet (including voting in US elections.) Why? Not because it wouldn't be convenient, but because doing it right is really hard. Most of the internet applications you interact with don't need to be all that secure. They need to be good-enough secure.

And as much as some people think the census isn't that big a deal, it dictates a lot of money and asset handling. Just 'cause you don't care where the money goes doesn't mean someone else doesn't see an opportunity to exploit. It would be much harder to exploit the paper system, than to exploit an internet available web application.


David G

I'm shocked at the negative feedback here to the idea of having it online.

"Filling in some bubbles took about two minutes. " It's not bubbles. It's mostly writing and I have 7 people in my family.

There's a lot of redundancy but I like this one the best. How old are you? When is your exact birthday (mm/dd/yyyy)? Do they really need that first question?

It's true that not everyone has internet but nobody says that everyone has to do it online. Just give us the option! Send everyone a form with a unique identifier per address. Then people can use that identifier to either complete it online or to mail back the form. I really don't know why this isn't done and until it is done I refuse to complete the census (I did do the unofficial census online).


I support the concerns raised about Internet submission. After all, Census is about correct measurements. And Internet submission comes out as a convenience to the users with the additional costs for the Census to verify this information.

I also agree with the good point raised about IRS and their Internet collections. IRS partners with multiple different companies to provide electronic submissions. There is a pay-off. Unless your income is below a certain threshold, you have to pay for your taxes.
How would Census achieve this? Make people to pay for their Census submissions?

And I am very surprised by the question: "What is the point of the census anyway?"
By far, it is probably one of the most important programs because US Census is directly tied in to the democratic voting. Also, as an added bonus, the data from the US Census allows us to have data that can be later used for research.



Have you heard the radio ads encourageing you to complete the Census form? Such as the one about it leading to more stop lights or more teachers for your community. Just another way of saying return your Census form so you can get more big government! These might have seemed like good ideas in brainstorming meetings, but I hardly find the message convincing.

Jan Hertsens


> The machine should never be off!

Do you also keep your hummer running all the time, just in case you want to go for a drive?

Steve Jobs

Once every ten year, use snail mail. No big deal.


As has been mentioned already, it's a "JOBS" program!

Jackie O

The reason stated by the Census for the letters makes some sense. They have found that if they advertise and send advance warning that the form is coming, they get a better first round response rate. When people do not fill out the form, they have to send a person to their house. Which means they have to hire, train, and pay that person - which costs a lot more than postage & printing.

Submiiting the form online would open us up to security issues... I'll take the 30 seconds to drop it in the mail.


Weren't computers invented to power the U.S. Census? (

Alex B.

The Census also has a long lead time. They wanted to do online submissions for 2010, but they had to make the decision about that back in 2006 or so - and opted not to. Security was a concern, but it would also upset their current address-based system, meaning they'd need more questions to ensure they didn't have duplicate submissions. Also, it would have to be a system operating in parallel with the paper based system, thus you wouldn't save much in costs.

As for the advance letter, every increase of one percent in the mail back response rate saves the Bureau $85 million in labor. If you don't mail it back, they have to send someone door to door. The advance letter costs about $42 million, but tends to increase the response rate 6-12 points. Do the math - it saves money.

As for the questions, some of them are redundant by nature. The questions are specifically designed to help weed out inaccurate information by looking for places that offer inconsistencies. That's why they ask "how many people live here" several times in several different ways.


Sudha M

For those people here who consider themselves masters of the interwebs and are complaining about lack of an online Census -- did you even visit the Census 2010 website? If you went there, you would see that they are considering an online submission option for the future .

Sudha M

To add to what Alex B said -- it costs 42 cents for the postage paid envelope and $50+ to send a census to visit a house that doesn't return the form.

My only hope is that enough people skip the census in Minnesota and Rep Michelle Bachman's house seat gets eliminated in redistricting.

Katie W

I was discussing this with a friend the other day. I feel that instead of the two notifications, you should get a single one that says "This is your address reference number. If you would like to complete your Census online, please go to and enter this code as a part of your registration process. If you would prefer to receive and complete a paper census, please call us at 1-800-555-1234."

It came as part of a larger discussion about the fact that in order to get truly useful information on the race/demographics section you really need a far larger form... and that completing the Census online would both lessen the paper waste involved and make data entry easier.

Then with location codes, you could fairly easily track who had completed their census online.

Andrew Leigh

I filed my 2006 Australian census online, and it was a breeze. Plus there's something neat about knowing that no-one's going to misread your handwriting.


Hacking the site wouldn't be any fun for them anyways, hackers like to hide fun data places, that was a highly visible dataset, where as the census will only be seen by government and researchers. Plus a paper census can be just as invalid as an online one, by those who don't return their form, falsify information, etc.
Now, there is an advantage to an online census, if we start now we can have it efficient in five years, and have an accurate census every year with the IRS, why they haven't done that by now is just plain inefficient.
Plus the government would rather spend millions on stupid census Ads than on an Online system that could be tweaked out in a few years.