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Special Census

A special census is a process outlined in Tennessee statutes to update the population of a Tennessee county or municipality in the years following the U.S. Census Bureau’s counts collected at the beginning of each decade.

A community may benefit from additional state revenues that are distributed on a per capita basis if a certified special census reflects increased population from growth or annexation. State Data Center staff at the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research administer the program in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD).


Communities that are considering conducting a special census should carefully review the procedures document. It was created to convey general information on special census procedures.

Common Special Census Questions

At the beginning of each decade, the results of the federal census of Tennessee become the basis for distribution of certain of state revenues shared with cities and counties.

In Tennessee, certain revenues collected by the state are distributed to counties and municipalities based on the population reported annually in the Certified Population of Tennessee Incorporated Municipalities and Counties. Unless a special census has been conducted and subsequently certified by the TNECD, the population count from the latest decennial census is used.

Growth in a community, annexation, new municipal incorporation or dispute with the federal counts are common reasons a special census is conducted.

The Center for Economic Research in Tennessee (CERT) at TNECD produces the annual report of population by July 1 of each year. Reports are available for the following years:

Typically a community conducts its own census of its residents. Beginning in 2023, communities may also choose to contract with the Special Census section at the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct the enumeration.

For self-enumeration, typical tasks can include:

  • Advance outreach and marketing to inform residents
  • Developing address lists
  • Contacting residents
  • Door-to-door follow-up to non-respondents

In the cases of annexations or new incorporation, data from the latest federal census can be used. The procedures document provides additional information for each case.

Tennessee statutes permit a city to conduct up to four citywide special censuses each decade. A county may conduct up to two countywide censuses during the same time frame.

Depending on the purpose of the special census, additional restrictions on the number of special censuses may apply. The procedures document provides an overview of other instances, and provides references to the relevant portions of the Tennessee Code.

There are three primary deadlines a community must adhere to in order to receive certification from TNECD:

  • January 1: Deadline to submit a letter of intent to the Boyd Center
  • March 1: Deadline to submit special census documentation to approved agency for review and field verification
  • May 15: Deadline to submit special census documentation to the Boyd Center

The deadline to complete a canvas of the community’s residents and to submit materials to the certifying agency is March 1st. The State of Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) has determined that extended deadlines cannot be offered for any of the required benchmark dates. However, in the event that special census roster cannot be completed by March 1st, a community may be still be able to submit their counts for the subsequent year’s certified population report, provided that a new letter of intent is filed. In this scenario, the new certified population collected during a special census will become effective in the TNECD report released sixteen months after March 1st rather than four months after that date.

It is important that the community considers that the greater the length of time between commencing a special census and certification, the more residents may move into and out of housing units in the area. Efforts should be focused on completing the census as soon as possible after the March 1 deadline passes to ensure that the roster does not become “stale.”

The following requirements and recommendations should be followed when a community determines that it is necessary to extend their special census past the March 1st deadline:

  • Contact the certifying agency to make them aware of your intentions and to coordinate an estimated date when certification is expected to begin
  • Devote resources needed to complete the resident roster; this may include additional mail outreach, campaigns and field work to collect names from non-responding housing units
  • Send the required materials to the certifying agency as soon as the canvas is complete
  • The certifying agency completes the certification and sends results to the community
  • Before January 1 of the following year (10 months after the missed March 1 deadline) submit a new special census letter of intent
  • Submit the final materials to the Boyd Center no later than May 15 (14 months and 15 days after the missed March 1 deadline)

Approval of a special census is a multi-layered review involving the program administrators, field checks and ultimately certification by TNECD for incorporation into Certified Population of Tennessee Incorporated Municipalities and Counties that becomes effective each July.

Tennessee’s nine Development Districts play in important role in this regard, verifying the completeness and accuracy of a special census. Through arrangements with the community conducting the census, a Development District is contracted to conduct a random checks of households; polling at least 10% of the residents listed in the census to ensure error does not exceed 5%.

Screen capture of Tennessee Special Census webmap

Interactive Map of Special Censuses (2010-2020)

Fifty-four incorporated municipalities in Tennessee conducted a special census since the 2010 decennial census data were released in 2011. These include partial counts of newly annexed areas and complete city-wide counts. No counties completed a special census since 2010.

After launching the map, click on a city or town to see its 2010 population, special censuses and 2020 certified population.



For more information or questions about the Tennessee Special Census program contact:

Tim Kuhn, Director
Tennessee State Data Center
Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research
University of Tennessee
2280 Sutherland Ave, Suite 228
Knoxville, Tennessee 37919

Phone: (865) 974-6070