Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue
Photo of housing contruction

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

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
713 Stokely Management Center
916 Volunteer Blvd.
Knoxville, TN 37996

Phone: (865) 974-6070