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2020 Census is too important to risk technical failure

Officials need backup plan for population count

The once-a-decade collection of information about Americans may well go down in history as the first digital Census. Let us hope it also is not recorded as an electronic fiasco.

Officials at the U.S. Census Bureau will be utilizing tons of state-of-the-art technology in gathering information this year. For starters, this will be the first Census in which Americans are being encouraged to participate online, instead of with printed questionnaires. And, later this year, the small army of people going door-to-door to ask questions will be carrying smartphones using a new “app” to assist in collecting information.

Some observers worry about the new reliance on high-tech. They point out that by definition, it has not been tested. That is, we will not know how well a system used on this enormous scale works until we try to use it.

Right on schedule for the naysayers came the Iowa caucuses. As the first state where voters indicate their preferences for presidential candidates, Iowa has substantial power over the nominating process.

But Democratic Party leaders in that state tried their own high-tech experiment in counting and tabulating votes earlier this month — and it proved a dismal failure.

The two situations are very different, of course. Iowa Democrat leaders were cautioned in advance their “app” might not perform as advertised. They ignored the warnings. And, of course, their resources pale in comparison to those available to the Census Bureau.

Still, reliance on new technology can be risky. Here’s hoping the Census Bureau has a backup if its new system fails to perform accurately.

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