The move has the potential to change the data the government uses to decide everything from where to build new schools and how various federal funds flow back to the states.
In a rule due to be published, the Census Bureau says it will run a Census test in early 2015 that tries to reduce the number of non-responses, including by stopping the delivery of census forms to vacant housing units.
The bureau said it will focus on Hispanic neighborhoods when conducting this test.
“We want to have an area with high concentrations of Hispanic population, vacant housing units and mobile populations,” the rule states. “This will allow us to study the impacts of the usage of administrative records on the Hispanic population, vacant housing units and areas with more mobile populations.”
The rule says the Census Bureau will select about 170,000 housing units as part of the test and will take several steps to try to reach the people living in those households. For example, it will start by letting people respond themselves, but will follow up with a non-response to as many as 80,000 housing units.
The Census Bureau is also planning to allow people to response to questions in 2020 using the Internet. In preparation for that change, the bureau will begin a campaign that will allow people to pre-register to participate in the Census, and then get a reminder once it’s ready to be filled out.
The rule says the Census Bureau will conduct “targeted digital marketing for demographic groups that we know to be hard-to-reach from past censuses,” but the rule does not say who those groups are.
While it’s not exactly clear these changes might affect the final outcome of the 2020 census, Republicans have accused the Obama administration several times for meddling with Census data.
Earlier this year, Republicans said Obama was trying to make changes to Census questions on health care in order
to make it difficult to judge whether people are better or worse off under Obamacare.
Just before the 2010 census, some Republicans were worried that the administration would try to use sampling to conduct the census, which could have the effect of overstating certain populations such as the poor or homeless to the electoral benefit of Democrats.