House Democrats investigating the origins of a proposed citizenship question for the 2020 Census said Tuesday they’ve found previously undisclosed communications between a Trump administration adviser and a redistricting guru who favored excluding noncitizens from population counts to help Republicans.
Trump administration adviser Mark Neuman was in direct contact with redistricting expert Thomas Hofeller as Neuman drafted a letter to the Census Bureau on behalf of the Department of Justice, asking that the citizenship question be added, according to a memo released by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
At the time, Neuman was advising U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who announced last year he was adding the citizenship question to the 2020 Census in response to the Department of Justice’s need to help enforce the Voting Rights Act.
“Please make sure that this language is correct,” Neuman wrote to Hofeller in an August 2017 text message, adding that Hofeller’s business partner, Dale Oldham hadn’t returned his calls, according to the House memo.
Hofeller responded, “Dale just read it, and says it is fine as written,” the memo said.
Hofeller had written a 2015 study on the potential partisan impact of basing Texas legislative districts on the number of voting-age citizens rather than total population.
“A switch to the use of citizen voting age population as the redistricting population base for redistricting would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” Hofeller said in the study which was made public after his death last year.
The U.S. Supreme Court last June rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to add the citizenship question, saying justification for the question “seems to have been contrived.”
Opponents said having a citizenship question on the questionnaire would have discouraged immigrants and Hispanics from participating, to the disadvantage of Democrats, in the head count that takes place every 10 years.
In a statement, the U.S. Commerce Department cited the preliminary results of a Census Bureau test that showed the citizenship question for the most part would have had little impact on participation overall.
“Again, Oversight Democrats are proving that this is simply a PR stunt primarily intended to malign senior officials in the Trump Administration,” the statement said.
The census helps determine the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending. It’s also used for calculating how many House members each state gets in the apportionment process, and it’s used for redrawing state and local legislative boundaries in redistricting.
Evidence uncovered by the ongoing House investigation suggests the Trump administration wanted to add the citizenship question months before the Department of Justice made its request and that “may have been an unconstitutional effort to exclude immigrants for purposes of legislative redistricting and apportionment,” the House memo said.