WILLMAR — Of those households that received a mailed or dropped off invitation to complete the 2020 census early this spring, 70 percent in Willmar and 66.7 percent of them in Kandiyohi County have completed it. That is just below the statewide rate of 71.2 percent, which leads the nation.

"I think we are doing very well," said Willmar City Clerk Judy Thompson, who leads the city's Census Complete Count Committee. "I would like to see it higher obviously."

The response rates are tracked by the U.S. Census Bureau and can be found on an interactive web map at 2020census.gov.

Other counties in the region are also showing census response rates in the high 60s.

The 2020 census is the first in history to allow residents to complete the survey online. In Kandiyohi County, 56.8 percent of responders have done so online, while statewide the average is 59.9 percent.

"The internet has been really good, it is so simple," Thompson said. "I wish more people would do that."

The first letters inviting residents to complete the census were sent out in late March. Those who do not receive mail at their home, but through a post office box, might also have received a hand-delivered invitation. The Census Bureau has sent out reminder letters and eventually mailed a census form to those who have not yet completed it.

Over the next week, post office box holders who have not completed the census will get a reminder card mailed to their boxes, something the Willmar committee had been pushing, due to the high number of area residents who do not get mail delivered to their home.

For more than two years, the Willmar Complete Count Committee worked to educate the community about the census. As the census drew closer, there were plans for in-person events and public computers people could use to fill out the census. However, the COVID-19 pandemic either canceled those ideas outright or put them on the back burner.

"We worked to reach out to everyone, prior to the pandemic," Thompson said. "I hope people continue to help spread the word."

Based on the response data from the Census Bureau, the message has been received better in some areas of Willmar than others. In the southwest corner of the city, the self-response rate is 79.7 percent, while in downtown it is only 54.5 percent. The Complete Count Committee tried to reach out to Willmar's many diverse communities, but some of that was curtailed again by the virus.

Those residents who have not self-responded to the census could soon be getting a visitor. The Census Bureau announced earlier this month that nonresponse follow-ups, in which a census worker physically visits residents, will start nationally on Aug. 11. They were initially postponed because of the pandemic.

"They are going to start sending out the door knockers," Thompson said.

The decennial census is required by the United State Constitution, with the first one having been completed in 1790. The total population count of the 13 original states plus Vermont and the Southwest Territory was 3,929,214. The 2010 census had a total population count of 308,745,538.

The census is not only a snapshot of how many people are living in the United States, but also decides how many representatives a state has in the House of Representatives as well as dividing up federal aid to the states. Locally, the census data impacts where state funding is sent, drawing of representative districts for state and local government and is even an economic development tool.

"Please, if you haven't completed it, please do so," Thompson said. "We need that federal money, we need it for the next 10 years. We need to make sure our community gets the money it deserves."

Those living in the United States can fill out the census online at my2020census.gov or by calling 844-330-2020. If a household has a paper copy of the census , they may also respond through the mail.

"Now it is up to you," Thompson said.

Regional county census self-response rates:

Chippewa — 69.5%

Kandiyohi — 66.7%

Lac qui Parle — 66.2%

Meeker — 66.7%

Renville — 65.9%

Swift — 67.5%

Yellow Medicine — 69.2%