Dukes County lags in census response

Just 13 percent of households have responded thus far.


The number of Martha’s Vineyard households responding to the U.S. Census is lagging well behind the state and country response rates, and even those of the rival island of Nantucket.

In Dukes County, just 13 percent of households had responded to the census as of Monday morning, compared with 21.7 percent for Nantucket. Statewide, 60 percent of the population has filled it out, and the country has had an overall completion rate of 58.5 percent.

The reason for the Dukes County lag is simple, county commissioner Keith Chatinover said. The original mailing that was sent out by the federal government in mid-March with census IDs went to residential mailboxes. Two-thirds of Islanders get their mail in Post Office boxes.

“We were really battling from behind. Every place in the country got those, and we never did,” Chatinover said.

And even some of the ones that went to households with residential delivery were addressed incorrectly, causing problems and ultimately frustration for the people filling them out, Jean Cabonce, outreach coordinator for the census in Dukes County, said.

A typical solution to that problem, which is nothing new to Martha’s Vineyard, would be to send census workers door-to-door. Given the current pandemic and stay-at-home orders, that’s problematic.

So Chatinover and Cabonce are in the process of working on other methods to get the word out.

Cabonce said a flyer made by the county is currently being printed, and should be in mailboxes by the end of next week. It’s being paid for with a grant received by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission from the state. She is also working with food pantries and school lunch programs to get the word out that the Island needs better participation in the census.

Why is the census important? The population numbers can change the level of representation. In 2010, the state lost a congressional district, and has since had one fewer congressman representing the Bay State in Washington, D.C.

State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, who had sessions about the census on both the Vineyard and Nantucket last summer, said he’s hopeful the communities will rally. “This is such an important issue for the Island,” he said. “So many funding formulas are based on population, as is our representation in Congress.”

Both Chatinover and Cabonce want the public to know that the information provided to the census is completely confidential. Any concerns, particularly by the Island’s undocumented residents, that the information can be used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is false. The information can’t be used by the IRS or the FBI, either. Census workers aren’t allowed to share the information with anyone. “The fine is a quarter of a million if you misuse it,” Chatinover said. “There’s a lot of fear within [the undocumented] community. I understand it, but it’s unfounded. It’s not true. It’s completely safe. The online system is encrypted. It’s not easily hackable,” he said.

Island residents don’t have to wait until they get the flyer in their P.O. boxes, Chatinover said. They can go online and fill it out at https://my2020census.gov. On the site you can answer in English or 13 other languages, including Portuguese. There is also a way to call in to provide census information, at 844-330-2020 for English and 844-474-2020 for Portuguese.

For seasonal residents of Martha’s Vineyard, they should fill it out based on their primary residence, Cabonce said. “The rule of thumb is wherever you live primarily, six months or more of the year,” she said.


  1. I entered that email address in order to fill out the census. The first question it asks me for is the 12 digit I.D. number that is on materials mailed to me or dropped at my door. I never got either of those so how can I possibly use that site?

  2. Another problem is that when people move on the island their mail continues to go to old addresses. I frequently get mail for people who apparently used to use my PO Box. I always write “wrong address” on the mail, return it to the PO, but nothing ever changes. A week later I’ll get more new mail for people that I don’t know.

  3. It’s time for the post office to start delivering to residential addresses on MV, as they do nearly every other place in the country. We pay the same postage rates; we should get the same service.

    • VH Resident, the only problem with that is when people don’t own a home on the island. i’ve only moved 5 times in 30 years, but a LOT of people i know rent and are still doing the island shuffle. so by the time your mail catches up with you, you have moved on to the next place. i suppose if you’re one who rents out their house in the summer season and moves to a boat or a tent to make ends meet, you would make some kind of arrangement about mail sent to your home, but in the end, it probably makes sense to a lot of people to just have a p.o. box.

  4. Just went online and filled it out! It took a couple of minutes and I was done! Everyone should do it and you can do it without the 12 digit id because I have a po box and never received the paperwork.

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