Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

How to rig the Census

This is how you would do it.

The Trump administration’s controversial effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census was drawn up by the Republican Party’s gerrymandering mastermind, who wrote that it “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.” This bombshell news, revealed in newly released legal documents, suggests that the Trump administration added the question not to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, as it claimed, but to benefit Republicans politically when it came to drawing new political districts.

A case challenging the citizenship question is currently before the Supreme Court, and the new evidence significantly undercuts the Trump administration’s position in the case.

Tom Hofeller, who passed away last year, was the longtime redistricting expert for the Republican National Committee. He helped Republicans draw heavily gerrymandered maps in nearly every key swing state after the 2010 election. In some of those places, like North Carolina, the new lines were struck down for discriminating against African Americans.

In 2015, Hofeller was hired by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news outlet, to study the impact of drawing state legislative districts based on citizenship rather than total population, which has been the standard for decades. Hofeller’s analysis of Texas state legislative districts found that drawing districts based on citizenship—a move he conceded would be a “radical departure from the federal ‘one person, one vote’ rule presently used in the United States”—would reduce representation for Hispanics, who tended to vote Democratic, and increase representation for white Republicans. But Hofeller said that a question about citizenship would need to be added to the census, which forms the basis for redistricting, for states like Texas to pursue this new strategy.

Hofeller then urged President Donald Trump’s transition team to add the question about citizenship to the 2020 census. He urged the team to claim that a citizenship question was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act, even though Hofeller had already concluded that it would harm the racial minority groups that the act was designed to protect. That argument was then used by the Justice Department in a December 2017 letter requesting that the Commerce Department, which oversees the census, include a citizenship question.

Hofeller’s documents were discovered on hard drives found by his estranged daughter and introduced into evidence in a separate trial challenging gerrymandered North Carolina state legislative districts drawn by Hofeller. On Thursday, lawyers challenging the citizenship question cited them in federal court. They suggest that members of Trump’s team may not have been fully forthcoming in their testimony under oath. Neither Trump transition team member Mark Neuman nor John Gore, the former assistant attorney general for civil rights who wrote the Justice Department letter, mentioned Hofeller’s involvement in the letter when they were deposed under oath as part of a lawsuit by New York and 17 other states challenging the citizenship question.

Yeah. And of course, Texas was a key to all this.

The filing includes a 2015 analysis by Hofeller that had been commissioned to demonstrate the effect that using the population of citizens who are of voting age, as opposed to total population, would have on drawing up legislative districts.

Hofeller detailed how the change would clearly be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” by using the Texas House as his case study. He detailed how the Hispanic population would drop in traditionally Democratic districts, which would then have to grow geographically to meet constitutional population requirements in redistricting.

The loss of Democratic-leaning districts would be most severe in areas with mostly Hispanic populations, such as South Texas, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley, which would lose 2.6 state House districts, according to Hofeller’s analysis. The change would also cost Dallas County 1.7 districts and another 1.7 districts in Harris County and its suburbs.

If the Supreme Court had required such a change at the time of the study, it would have mandated a “radical redrawing of the state House districts,” Hofeller wrote. He noted that the traditionally Democratic districts in need of more population could pick up pockets of Democratic areas in adjacent Republican-held districts and ultimately shore up the GOP’s control across the state.

But that approach was unrealistic at that point, Hofeller wrote in his study, because the government did not compile the necessary citizenship information. And he admitted it was unlikely that the Supreme Court could be convinced to alter the population standard used to draw legislative districts.

“Without a question on citizenship being included on the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire, the use of citizen voting age population is functionally unworkable,” Hofeller said.

This is a reference to the Evenwel lawsuit, which established that states had discretion in how they drew legislative districts, but did not opine on whether drawing them based on citizen population rather than plain old population was legal. And so here we are.

The Census lawsuits have been argued before the Supreme Court, where the five Republican Justices seem inclined to let the Trump administration break the law as they see fit. Rick Hasen thinks this should-be-a-blockbuster revelation will just make the SCOTUS Five that much more likely to go with Team Trump. Hey, remember how Jill Stein supporters – and Ralph Nader supporters before her – poo-poohed concerns about the makeup of the Supreme Court if another Republican President got to pick more Justices? Good times, good times. ThinkProgress and Daily Kos have more.

Related Posts:


  1. Stephen says:

    “Ralph Nader supporters”

    Y’all. I am so sorry. It was 2000. I was young.

  2. Maintream says:

    Why are Democrats scared to know accurate data regarding the citizenship characteristics of a community? When arguing to the courts, Latino advocates claim there are enough Hispanic citizens in Sharpstown and Gulfton to control a state house or city council district, but instead we get Rep. Wu or City Council Member Laster out of the racially/ethnically contorted districts created under pressure from the courts to empower that phantom citizen Latino community there.

  3. Bill_Daniels says:

    Over 1,000 new voters crossed the border just last night, via a cut border fence. I’m sure some of them will end up living in, and voting in Sharpstown.

  4. Joel says:

    Reports leaked yesterday show the motivation of these questions. When you figure that out, you don’t have to ask what Democrats are afraid of. It’s right there in black and white.

  5. SocraticGadfly says:

    I’m one of those people, and given that the “notorious RGB” has little respect for the spirit of the First Amendment vis a vis Kaepernick, that about all the Supremes suck on the freedom of assembly clause of 1A, that other librulz have sometimes caved on the Sixth, and other things, I stand by that.

    Why don’t you criticize Schumer for his judge appointing deals with Trump?

  6. SocraticGadfly says:

    In addition, per actual info from the NYT (as with HB 2504 here in Texas), your premise is wrong:

    Proof is in the pudding that Jill Stein didn’t “make Hillary lose”
    Obama 2012 –>Trump voters of 6 mil and
    Obama 2012 –> stay at homers of 4.4 both topped
    Obama 2012 –> third party voters of 2.3 mil.

    In addition, Democrats don’t “own” independent voters’ votes, whether they’re centrists, neoliberals with a moderate libertarian streak who decided to vote for a relatively sane Libertarian in Gary Johnson, or leftists like me.

  7. SocraticGadfly says:

    This all said, I reject the stupidity of all the wingnuts commenting here.

  8. voter_worker says:

    Yes, it’s plain as day that Republican Harris County Voter Registrars from 1998-2016 signed up massive numbers of non-citizen voters from Harris County’s immigrant community. No doubt the current VR is following in those hallowed footsteps. In my opinion, demographic and political trends will eventually overwhelm whatever re-districting schemes emerge from right-wing think tanks and activists. My demographic will, for all intents and purposes, be gone to the sweet hereafter in 2031.

  9. Greg Wythe says:

    I’d like to see the evidence you have on this. 😉

  10. voter_worker says:

    I guess if I have to come back and say that I was being sarcastic, the original comment was a total fail.* When I saw Bill’s comment about 1000 new voters overrunning the border last night, I tried to devise a response that would counter it with irony and without resorting to overtly trolling back. From now on, I think I’ll heed Manny’s protocol.

    *assuming Greg Wythe’s comment is directed at me. If it isn’t, then I have two fails under my belt today.

  11. Manny says:

    Mainstream, you are wrong about the courts forcing the creation of those districts. They were not meant to be for an elected Hispanic, but what makes you think that people will vote for the “Mexican sounding name” only?

    I am not sure about the district that Wu is in, but District J was created so that Laster could win, they did call it a Hispanic District. Fact is that Latinos have one Council Member and that is District I. The Harris County Democrats are the ones that should take credit for disfranchising Latinos in Harris County. Then they wonder why Latinos don’t come out to vote. In fact there is one particular Democratic group that is mostly responsible for that.

  12. Manny says:

    SocraticGadfly you live in a fantasy world directly opposite to the ones that the Trump lovers live in. Kuff was referring to the Supreme Court, you came up with elections. Occasionally I go visit your website and then I remember why I do it so infrequently, no different then my going to Fox.

  13. SocraticGadfly says:

    Manny, my link was to how Ginsberg is overrated as a justice.

    And, Kuff commented about third party voters in that last graf.

    Occasionally, I bother to comment to you, then seeing how thick your skull is, remember why I don’t do it more often. #fify.

    Feel free to read more next time before commenting.

  14. SocraticGadfly says:

    For Kuff and Manny from the current session:

    Stephen Breyer, another librul justice who hates the First Amendment, or at least somewhat hates it.

  15. Manny says:

    Gadfly let me repeat you live in an alternative world opposite the ones that Trump voters live in.

    I don’t understand people like you that come to criticize Kuff when you have your own blog, and how convenient to claim your link was Ginsberg, when you had two links the other was

    By the way Polk wanted war with Mexico, contrary to what you wrote in your blog. So explain why Polk would send soldiers to an area that was claimed by Mexico? Texas original boundary was the Nueces River.

  16. SocraticGadfly, if you are really trying to argue that Breyer and RBG are somehow equivalent to Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, then there’s nothing for us to talk about.