Census: Fill it out or else … please?

U.S. citizens are required by law to fill out their census forms, according to 2010.census.gov.

Sec. 221. Refusal or neglect to answer questions; false answers

(a) Whoever, being over eighteen years of age refuses or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary, or by any other authorized officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof acting under the instructions of the Secretary or authorized officer, to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with any census or survey provided for by subchapters I, II, IV, and V of chapter 5 of this title, applying to himself or to the family to which he belongs or is related, or to the farm or farms of which he or his family is the occupant, shall be fined not more than $100.

In fact, it’s stated that we’re required to fill it out right on the envelope.

Why, then, is the government spending, likely, millions of dollars advertising and begging people to respond to the census?

March 16 press release:

The U.S. Census Bureau will be back on the race track as the primary sponsor of the No. 16 Ford Fusion driven by Greg Biffle when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend.

March 15 press release:

As 2010 Census forms arrive in more than 120 million mailboxes across the country this week, several 20-foot-high replicas of the form began touring the nation today.

A typical radio PSA:

[JOSH] An important civic duty.

And there’s this one:

It’s your opportunity to help your community get what it needs for the next 10 years.

But nowhere is it mentioned that if you don’t do it, there’s a fine of up to $100, which, let’s face it, is only a night out for the family at Longhorn Steakhouse.

Still, it’s interesting to see the government soft-pedaling something required by law as “an important civic duty” and to be spending so much money to convince people to do something they’re required to do anyway. I imagine that prosecuting scofflaws would be much more expensive than the fine, but would it be more expensive than sponsoring a NASCAR team? The PSAs may be free, but I know I’ve heard them in some prime-time spots.

I wonder if they’ll do the same if an individual insurance mandate becomes law.

Buying health insurance is an important civic duty. It’s your opportunity to pay for someone else’s poor lifestyle choices. And if you don’t, well, the fines start at $670.

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