Some Delaware County residents this week received what looked like official forms for this year’s U.S. census — almost a month early. But the surveys are cleverly designed fakes, officials in the suburban county warned, and the latest in a series of documents the Republican National Committee is spreading across Southeastern Pennsylvania to glean information ahead of a contentious election.
Michael Ranck, who heads a committee working to ensure the county’s population is fully counted in the census, said the mailers were first spotted Tuesday.
“We’ve been working hard in Delaware County to put out good information so we get a good response rate,” Ranck said Wednesday. “Having a mailer go out that might confuse people is troubling — we’re afraid that people will say: ‘I filled this out already. Why should I do it again?’ ”
Similar forms turned up in residents’ mailboxes earlier this month in the state’s 4th Congressional District, which covers the majority of Montgomery County and parts of Berks County, as well as the 1st Congressional District in Bucks County.
Officials from the Republican National Committee didn’t comment Wednesday.
Elizabeth Preate Havey, the chair of the Montgomery County Republican Party, criticized warnings by local Democrats about the mailers as a “political hatchet job.” Democrats have mailed similar documents in the past, though not so close to the actual U.S. Census.
Havey said her organization had nothing to do with recent mailings.
“Having received lots of these census documents all the time myself, I can say that people get them all the time, whether on the Democrat or Republican side,” she said Thursday, a day after this story was first published. “Democrats may not have received something like this recently, but they have if they’re registered with their party now, or have been at all in the past.”
Forms for the decennial population count are scheduled to be distributed in mid-March. The RNC’s “2020 Congressional District Census” forms are formatted in a similar manner, and contain questions about the reader’s political affiliation and opinions on President Donald Trump’s time in office. The surveys also solicit donations to reelect Trump and other Republican politicians.
Unlike the actual census forms from the federal government, these approximations do not ask for demographic data, including race, income, or religion.
Ranck said that his Delaware County Complete Count Committee has been working hard to reach parts of the county that have historically low response rates for the census, and that distractions like this can hurt the accuracy of the census, which helps determine funding levels.
“For each missed head that we don’t count, it’s about $2,000 that doesn’t come back to the county in government funding,” he said. “We’ve been trying to reach every constituency we can, to get the word out.”
Rep. Madeleine Dean, who represents the 4th Congressional District, issued warnings to voters two weeks ago about the fake forms. She said part of the confusion stemmed from the RNC mailers using the word census, which they are legally allowed to do, even if the surveys are not affiliated with the U.S. Census Bureau.
“It is disturbing to see an organization taking advantage of this important work, and causing confusion, and my office has partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau to help ensure they get the most accurate count possible,” Dean said at the time. "It’s an enormous impact on services, representation, and dollars coming to our district and to our state.”