The computer hard drives of a deceased Republican political operative have revealed, indisputably, the real reason the GOP wants to include a controversial citizenship question on the 2020 census: to make it easier to gerrymander congressional districts against minority voters for the benefit of the party’s candidates. With the Supreme Court currently deciding the census issue, this smoking gun deserves to be front and center.
When the Trump administration announced its intention to include a question about citizenship on the 2020 census for the first time in more than half a century, it claimed the reason was that the data would help the federal government verify that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was adequately protecting the voting rights of Latino citizens.
This has always seemed a dubious motive for an administration that hasn’t shown particular concern for that law, or for Americans of Hispanic heritage. Democrats have opposed the addition of the question, saying it would scare some non-citizen immigrants from filling out the census form and thus skewing the count. The Supreme Court has heard arguments and is expected to rule soon.
Now added to this mix, by a New York Times report last week, is the late Thomas Hofeller, a GOP party operative and expert at redistricting issues — a job that in today’s political realm means gerrymandering. After Hofeller died last summer, his estranged daughter came across documents in his computer hard drives that Hofeller had written for party officials putting together their case for adding the citizenship question.
The documents, which opponents have since subpoenaed and made part of their case against the census citizenship question, clearly show that the administration’s intent was never to protect Latino voting rights, but rather the exact opposite.
Hofeller had been a proponent of changing the way congressional districts are drawn, arranging them not by the total number of citizens per district but by the number of vote-eligible citizens. Proponents in that debate say the method would be more consistent with the Constitution, but the Hofeller documents expose the administration’s real goal: to gerrymander those new districts so vote-eligible minorities would be bunched together into fewer districts, increasing white voting power — a clear advantage for Republicans.
But that scheme requires knowing which Latino residents are vote-eligible and which aren’t.
Thus the push for the citizenship question on the census.
The documents not only make this scheme clear but virtually prove the administration has been lying to the public — and to the Supreme Court — about its motives for wanting this question on the census.
In a just political environment, this revelation would torpedo the administration’s entire census case before the court. How the court responds will go a long way toward showing whether that’s the kind of democratic environment America still has.