The 2020 Census, Voting and the Upcoming Election

A conversation with Ross Frommer, Vice President for Government and Community Affairs

September 10, 2020


What is the census? Why is participating in the Census important, and how can our surrounding community of Washington Heights be impacted by response rates? When should the census be completed?

The decennial census is a constitutionally mandated process that will play a significant factor in determining government representation and policy over the next ten years. How many Members of Congress each state has, where the district lines end up, and how government resources are allotted all depend on the outcome of the census. It is important that everybody, especially our community, participates so that we are not shortchanged. The deadline for residents in New York and New Jersey is  September 30, 2020.

What kind of questions should I expect on the 2020 census and are there any bilingual resources to assist members of my family or community in completing the census?

The questions are very simple - name, address, basic demographic information. It should only take about ten to fifteen minutes to fill out. The census is available in twelve languages in addition to English. I want to emphasize that there is no citizenship question on the census, and the census is not limited to just citizens. Everybody should fill it out. In fact, it is the law.

Should medical residents or students who are in NYC only temporarily participate in the Census? 

Absolutely, the census is there to count everybody! The responses are based on where you were residing on April 1st, 2020. This year things may be a little bit more complicated because many students, not just at Columbia, did move out of their housing in late March because of COVID-19, but the questionnaire does give you an opportunity to explain this.

For more information about this or any other census question, please visit

What's at stake for healthcare and medical research in the 2020 election? And other than COVID-19, what are the major healthcare topics you anticipate becoming election issues?

So much is at stake in this election and that it is why every citizen needs to register and vote. Certainly the future of the Affordable Care Act will depend on the outcome in November as will so many public health, coverage, and research funding issues. Together, Congress and the President determine the annual budget for the National Institutes of Health and who gets to make those decisions is critically important. For more information on the upcoming election and how to regsiter to vote please visit

Other than the presidential election, are there any other 2020 races locally or statewide that we should pay attention to?  

The entire US house of Representatives is up for reelection as is slightly more than a third of the US Senate and the Majority of both bodies will be determined by the results of the November elections. In New York state there are probably about half or dozen or so competitive House races. The entire New York State Legislature is also up for reelection.

What are the rules for CUIMC employees around supporting a candidate? For example, can employees donate or volunteer for a campaign? 

As a 501(c)(3) Columbia University cannot in any way shape or form engage in partisan political activity and employees and students should never use any university resources for this purposes. All employees and students and employees are free, and in fact have a first amendment right, to get involved and support candidates of their choice on their own time. For more details, see the policy on partisan political activity.

Does the CUIMC offer any resources or events to educate the internal and external community on the issues at stake?

In October, probably on the 14th, we will once again be hosting be hosting the CUIMC Election Forum. This is an opportunity for students, faculty, staff, and others to learn more about and discuss important health care issues in the November election. Stay tuned for more details.