Q. Am I really required to fill out the full census form? Kris from Frederick, MD.
A. This is the first year I’ve received my very own census form to complete, and it’s not exactly a milestone I’m thrilled to reach. The 2010 census asks a lot of questions — census questions which aren’t exactly authorized by the Constitution. It’s a little more innocuous than I was expecting since I didn’t get the giant “American Community Survey”, but most of the questions are still…well…none of the government’s damn business (none of the damn government’s business? But I digress). So I too am wondering: Do I have to fill out this whole thing?
According to the form I’ve got here, yes – but don’t worry, it’s “quick and easy”! The Census Bureau backs this claim up with a fairly intimidating promise to slap those who refuse to fill out the census form with a fine of up to $5000.
It sounds, however, like this is largely a bluff, as is admitted on the Census Bureau’s own website. When I clicked on the answer to “Do I have to fill the form in?” I was told it’s “required by law.” But “required by law” apparently means something very different explanation from the $5,000 figure the bureau keeps tossing around:
Whoever, being over eighteen years of age refuses or willfully neglects…to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with any census…shall be fined not more than $100.
$100? That’s it? It sucks, yes, and it’s an unconstitutional fine, yes. But it’s no $5,000.
Meanwhile, a quick googling tells an even better story: Former census workers from the most recent census claim that you can — without penalty — refuse to answer anything on the census other than the number of people in the household and the names of those people (or maybe also whether you rent or own your residence, but this is still a great improvement).
It’s important to remember, of course, that neither I nor these former census workers are qualified to give legal advice. But as far as I can tell the potential fine for refusing all but the most basic, constitutionally-authorized questions is $100, not $5,000. And refusal to answer the superfluous questions is rarely prosecuted. So what to do? Well the risk is less than the Census Bureau wants you to think it is, and I rather like the way Walter Williams put it:
Americans need to stand up to Washington’s intrusion into our private lives…Unless a census taker can show me a constitutional requirement, the only information I plan to give are the number and names of the people in my household. The census taker might say, “It’s the law.” Thomas Jefferson said, “Whensoever the General Government (Washington) assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.”
I haven’t decided yet if I’m quite that brave, but for the moment, I’m kind of liking this idea to fill out the basic part and send the form back with Ron Paul’s article on why the other census questions are illegal. Constitutional requirements will be complete, prosecution is unlikely, and maybe I’ll make a convert to liberty.
UPDATE: A court in Delaware ruled in the 70s that you could be fined $100 per omitted answer, as opposed to $100 total (meaning you could theoretically be charged up to $1,000 this year for leaving all ten questions blank). Prosecution is still quite unlikely, however, and the original text of the law, which I quoted above, says nothing of the sort.Published in