Questions and Answers

The United States Census, Can I Refuse?

United States Census
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic LicensePhoto by  USDAgov

Each household in the United States is issued a census form by the government every year. It consists of questionnaires about household income and pries into personal information. The census is also used to calculate the United States population.
Of course the envelopes that are issued to American households are clearly marked with “Your response is required by law”. But can you refuse to answer the United States Census request? It says that it’s the law, but have you ever actually heard of this law, or known anyone that was prosecuted for something as simple as refusing the United States Census?

What Happens if I Don’t Respond to the United States Census?

Of course the Census Bureau stress the absolute importance and the benefits of answering their census call. But what if you refuse the census?


According to Federal Law, it’s possible to be fined up to $100 just by refusing to complete the census form. But it gets worse, if you answer any questions falsely, you can be fined up to $500. And at one point, if you weren’t in compliance with the United States Census you could even receive a sixty-day prison sentence. Then for false answers you would be looking at a one year sentence. Luckily those harsh judgments are no longer possible thanks to Congress removing the provisions in 1976.


Prosecutions for non-compliance with the United States Census are not very common, but they do occasionally happen. Let’s talk about a man named William Rickenbacker for just a moment. He was a resident of Briarcliff Manor in New York back in 1960. Well….He decided that he was going to answer the basic questionnaire, but when he got to the questions concerning the economic standing of his household, he thought enough was enough. He felt it was an invasion of privacy so he refused to answer that portion.


For this split second decision on Rickenbacker’s part, the Federal Government decided to make an example of him and prosecuted. A federal judge wound up fining him $100 as well as giving him a sixty-day suspended prison sentence. It was quite obvious that he was in non-compliance due to the fact he answered some of the questions, but then stopped.


How would the Government Know?

So the question arises, what if I just didn’t answer any of the questionnaire and failed to return any of the United States Census? Well that’s simple… When ever a household fails to turn in the census form, the Census Bureau will send workers to your home to seek physical contact with the household. They’ve been known to come back up to six times in attempts to make contact. If all these attempts to reach someone in the household are unsuccessful, then the government will consider you in non-compliance and will refer the case to the Justice Department for prosecution.


Is Every Prosecution Successful?

Of course with any type of criminal case there are some wins and some loses for both parties. This being the case, it’s safe to assume that not all cases that are brought to prosecution are successful. William Steele of Hawaii actually successfully appealed a conviction case for not fully answering his questionnaire. This was during the 1970 census and he managed to have his sentence and $50 fine both overturned.


His defense was that he was being singled out for prosecution simply because he had been a part of a public protest against the census. Amazingly the appeals court found this explanation logical thus overturning his conviction!

So I guess if there’s any lesson to be learned here it’s pretty cut and dry. Answer the United States Census questionnaire in full and return it to the Census Bureau promptly. The law of being prosecuted for non-compliance sounds pretty cheesie, but it does happen. No one really wants to get tangled up in a government battle, so do yourself a favor, take care of business…
Have you or anyone you know refused the United States Census and avoided prosecution? Or just let me know how you feel about all this and how it relates to the privacy of the American household…

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15 thoughts on “The United States Census, Can I Refuse?
  1. It is very good page posting in the site because in this built to the more information .So i like in this page.So thanks for the good page……………..

  2. So what if a person is living illegally in the U.S. ? How many people fill out the Census and note that they are illegally here?

    U.S. Census workers are typically temporary workers. Do they take their job seriously enough to investigate if they think there is more people living in the home?

    1. Yah Zack, as far as illegals are concerned…Seeing how the residency is illegal to begin with, I’m sure they don’t attempt to fill out a form, although I’m not too sure if they dig very deep in the actual citizenship of the bodies counted at any certain residence.

      On the note of investigations, although the ones that may be volunteer or temporary works, I assume they are working from instructions given by the government. As far as taking the initiative all on their own to investigate a household is highly unlikely. Doing it out of instruction from the government office may be a different situation entirely.

      Even though prosecutions have resulted from not complying with the U.S. Census, they are very few and far between from what I’ve researched.

  3. I refuse too. Today the census lady finally came to the door, I sent her on her way. This is not required by law to participate.

    1. Wow Greg, what did they tell you when you refused? I would for sure expect further attempts for compliance from them. But be careful, they can legally take you to court over such things.

      1. they can take you to court but those two cases are the only 2 to ever be prosecuted.

        No one should be forced by blackmail or be coerced to fill out a form.

        As said in another article that talked to someone from the CB the bureau isn’t in the business of prosecuting people. plus they have a 97%+ response rating while they’d like you to do it they aren’t going to go to far out of their way to make you.

        1. Colin it’s true that prosecutions may be few and far between when it comes to people dodging the census and I’m sure the bureau has much better things to do with their time. But you never know when you may become one of those few statistics. I guess it just depends on whether or not you’re someone that likes to gamble 🙂

  4. I moved to my brothers house and every month last year the census bureau guy kept coming out asking questions. I’m over that crap! I’m moving this year and I’m not answering the stupid questions. It’s a complete waste of time, energy, and I don’t want or need to be bothered with anything that stupid. I’m refusing this year!!! It’s not my house or my problem!!!!

    1. I hear ya Nicole. The census bureau can be quite the nuisance. I wouldn’t advise skipping or refusing to cooperate, but that of course is your decision. You can never predict what the outcome may be when dealing with the government. I wish you the best in what ever you decide to do though.

  5. I am 26 years old and have never taken part in the census. Never been contacted in any way shape or form by any government official. and when all of you census participants are microchipped and can’t piss without the government knowing what it smells like, I’ll be on a beach somewhere sipping margaritas.

    1. Well it’s a good dream mouse, but unfortunately you probably already have a chip and don’t know it. The government works in mysterious ways and what you don’t know, will actually hurt you. But I wish you all the luck in your island retreat 🙂

  6. All you have to provide is the enumeration of the household. That’s it. You won’t go to jail for exerting your rights under the constitution. Come on people know your rights..Don’t believe everything on the net.

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