This morning, Jack Maguire and his staff will gather around a conference table in Lexington County and begin sorting more than 3,000 pieces of paper.
Each paper will have a picture of a home in the county and corresponding information from the tax assessor's office. Once organized, the stacks of papers will be mailed to the Census Bureau.
Maguire, the county's GIS and planning manager, expects the sorting will take all day. But it's critical to Lexington County to prove to the Census Bureau that each of the 3,000 homes actually exists. The Census Bureau says they don't.
"We're appealing them because the house is there and someone is living in it," Maguire said.
Never miss a local story.
The verification of the addresses must be completed soon - before the bureau mails out its questionnaires in the spring.
The goal is to make sure every household in the United States receives a Census 2010 form.
The same process is happening in other cities and counties across South Carolina. For example, in Richland County, Brenda Carter, the GIS manager, is appealing 10,000 addresses.
And counties that do not have GIS mapping programs are receiving help from the S.C. Office of Research and Statistics.
It's extremely time consuming.
Maguire said his staff of nine has spent about 1,000 hours over four weeks on the project.
"All day. Every day. Everybody on my team," Maguire said.
It's important for cities and counties to gather as many correct addresses as possible. The more people counted, the more federal money each local government will receive during the next 10 years.
And South Carolina stands to gain in another way, too. Analysts have said the state could gain a seventh congressional seat if population estimates hold up. However, that seat will come by a narrow margin, so it's important to get everyone counted, said Bobby Bowers, director of the S.C. Office of Research and Statistics.
OFF THE ROAD, THROUGH THE WOODS?
Work on the address lists began more than a year ago.
It started when the Census Bureau mailed its master address list to every local government in the country. Cities, counties and states reviewed the lists to add new homes that had been built or correct mistakes such as misspelled street names, said Cathy Friedenreich, geographic coordinator of the Charlotte regional Census Bureau office.
In late spring and early summer of this year, the Census Bureau sent workers into communities to walk through neighborhoods and verify those updated address lists, Friedenreich said.
Then, the bureau told local governments whether it agreed with the original list. For many, the bureau returned a list of thousands of addresses it said it could not verify.
In Richland County, the bureau told officials that it could not find about 5,000 new addresses added to the list. And the bureau said it was deleting 5,000 from the old list, Carter said.
When the Census Bureau returned the list of rejected addresses, it filled 382 11-by-17 pages, Carter said.
And it came with one FedEx envelope for Carter to use when sending her appeals.
"I saw it and read the instructions, and I thought, 'This is not going to fit,'" she said.
To prove those addresses exist, Carter and her assistant have printed a digital aerial photo of every residence in question. Along with each photo, they have attached the county tax assessor's records for that property.
"We've just got stacks of paper," she said.
Lexington's Maguire said he does not know why the bureau denied so many addresses.
"Some of them, I wouldn't have gone that far off the road and through the woods to look at them, either," he said. "But up around the lake we've got big impressive houses with swimming pools. I don't understand how you miss it."
In Richland County, several apartment complexes were wiped off the list, Carter said.
She is adding them back.
And some addresses needed to be deleted. For example, the Census Bureau's original list included the old Harden Street apartment complex where the Celia Saxon neighborhood now exists.
HELPING OUT IN RURAL AREAS
While Richland and Lexington counties have mapping and planning offices to handle the appeals, six S.C. counties do not.
Will Roberts, a digital cartographer for the S.C. Office of Research and Statistics, spends his days pinpointing addresses on satellite maps. He prints each page and labels it.
So far, he's done this more than 4,000 times. And that's in Clarendon County alone.
Roberts and three other full-time state cartographers are racing to put the finishing touches on the master list of residential addresses in South Carolina that will be used in Census 2010. This list must be turned in to the Census Bureau by Dec. 30.
"We've got staff members pulling up aerial photography, validating the address and making printed copies," Roberts said.
Census forms will be mailed in March, and the official count day is April 1. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget and the Census Bureau put together an independent staff to rule on the appeals.
Even that staff's director said it will be impossible to look at every single address that is being appealed.
"It would take forever to do that," said Philip Fulton, the director, from the Washington, D.C., area.
Fulton has 25 on his staff.
He said they will take random samples from each local government's total stack of appeals. If those sample appeals are approved, then the office will rule in favor of a local government's entire submission.
"Basically, we'll give the local governments the benefit of the doubt on the rest of them," Fulton said.
Because mailing labels already have been printed, those addresses under appeal will not receive a mailed census form even if they are verified, Bowers said.
Instead, they will be hand delivered.
But at least they will be counted.
Each household contains an average of 2.3 people, Maguire said. Multiply that by 3,000 homes, and that's more than 6,000 people that could be added to Lexington County's population.
"It seems like a monumental amount of time spent on this project, but this will pay serious dividends for Lexington County for the next 10 years," Maguire said.