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Linda Svihovec, front, is the co-chair of the North Dakota Complete Count Task Force for the 2020 U.S. Census in North Dakota. In back, from left, are Kevin Iverson, of the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, Dennis Johnson, Deputy Regional Director of the Census, and Scott Davis, director of North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission.

State officials driving the 2020 U.S. Census in North Dakota hope the headcount can capture the state's college students, tribal members, oilfield workers and refugees, or risk missing federal funds.

Gov. Doug Burgum on Tuesday signed an executive order forming the state's Complete Count Task Force, to include 15 members he will appoint to look at how to best count every resident of the Peace Garden State. Co-chairs are former McKenzie County Auditor/Treasurer Linda Svihovec and former West Fargo Assistant Superintendent Louise Dardis, who hail from the fastest growing parts of the state.

"These population counts help us determine everything from where to build a bridge across a river to the best location to open a daycare," Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford said in a press conference Tuesday at the state Capitol in Bismarck. 

Missing someone in the census can result in losing about $19,000 in decennial federal dollars.

About 3,000 census workers will reach out to households in North Dakota in 2020, peaking in May and June of next year, Sanford said. 

U.S. Census Deputy Regional Director for the Denver Region Dennis Johnson said a census office will open this summer in Bismarck with a hiring process for state residents to be census workers. Census forms may be completed online, by phone or by mail.

North Dakota has contributed $1 million toward the census program. North Dakota Census Office manager Kevin Iverson said the money's purpose will be determined as the task force delves into its work for headcount strategies.

State officials say challenges will be counting transient workers of the Bakken oilfield, in Indian Country where many tribal members lack street addresses and in Cass County, the state's largest county and home to North Dakota State University in Fargo, where many students are from Minnesota.

Svihovec said communities in North Dakota's oil country, such as Williston and McKenzie County, have already formed local "complete count committees" for the 2020 census. The task force also will work with the North Dakota Petroleum Council over the next year, she added. 

"I'm hoping all those things will be very helpful in getting a better count in western North Dakota," Svihovec told reporters. 

Sanford, who was mayor of Watford City during the height of the Bakken oil boom from 2010 to 2016, said diverse tactics came to bear in counting new residents after the 2010 census tabbed 1,700 people in town.

Studies for infrastructure planning estimated about 6,700 residents in Watford City, relying on households' sewer usage, utility accounts and post office boxes. 

Scott Davis, executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, said a tribal subcommittee will tackle census issues in Indian Country. 

North Dakota has about 760,000 residents, according to 2018 figures. 

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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