GOP Strategist Wanted Citizenship Question on the 2020 Census to Benefit White People

He conducted a 2015 study that found adding the question "would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”
May 30, 2019, 4:14pm
A dead GOP strategist’s hard drive just provided new rationale for adding a citizenship question on the 2020 Census: that it’s good for white people.

A dead GOP strategist’s hard drive just provided new rationale for adding a citizenship question on the 2020 Census: that it’s good for white people.

The Trump administration is in the middle of trying to convince the Supreme Court that asking people about their citizenship status isn’t racially motivated, as critics allege, but rather a way for the government to better enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Notorious Republican redistricting strategist Thomas Hofeller helped write the Department of Justice memo that made that argument.

But Hofeller died last year, and in a strange twist of fate, his daughter found files on his computer that suggest another reason for adding the question, according to court documents uncovered by the New York Times. A 2015 study Hofeller conducted found that Republicans could use the new data to redraw voting districts based not on population but on the number of voting-age citizens.

That “would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” and “would clearly be a disadvantage for the Democrats,” Hofeller wrote in his study, according to the court documents.

The idea was that safely blue districts would lose population, and Republicans could push for those districts to expand by tacking on blue precincts from neighboring red districts. That, per Hofeller’s study, would make the adjacent red districts safer for Republicans.

Hofeller has redrawn district maps across the country that have helped Republicans win elections — and many of his maps have been challenged in the courts. But when arguing its case in front of a lower court judge, the Trump administration obscured Hofeller’s involvement — and his rationale — in proposing the citizenship question, according to the ACLU, one of the groups suing the government.

In April, the justices appeared ready to give the Trump administration the green light to add the question to the 2020 Census, although most of the reasoning focused on the benefits to the Voting Rights Act. The new information could delay or change their final decision, expected in June.

The story about how these files came to light is also a weird one.

Hofeller had been estranged from his daughter, Stephanie Hofeller, since 2014. She only learned that he had died last year by searching his name online, according to the Times. Once she got the news, she headed to her parents’ place in Raleigh, North Carolina, to settle his affairs.

When going through his stuff, she found four external hard drives and 18 thumb drives, all backups of his laptop. At first, she didn’t pay them any mind.

She wound up getting in touch with Common Cause, an advocacy group that works on voting rights issues, apparently to find a lawyer unconnected to her dad to help settle his estate. She mentioned the hard drives in passing, and the Common Cause staffer’s ears perked up: Common Cause was, at the time, challenging the district map drawn in North Carolina by none other than her father.

Subpoenas were filed shortly after that.

As for Hofeller’s daughter, she told the New York Times that she didn’t release the files out because she held any personal or political grudges against her dad, though she does believe that his redistricting work was undermining democracy.

Cover image: Immigration activists rally outside the Supreme Court as the justices hear arguments over the Trump administration's plan to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census, in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2019. Critics say the citizenship question on the census will inhibit responses from immigrant-heavy communities that are worried the information will be used to target them for possible deportation. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)