Common Cause released a report today that shows drawing electoral boundaries using only data for citizens over the age of 18 relies on fundamentally faulty data and is part of a partisan plot to shift representation away from communities of color to areas where white populations live.
Whitewashing Representation: How using citizenship data to gerrymander will undermine our democracy explores how using citizenship data to draw voting districts abandons the constitutional principles of one person, one vote. It also makes a case for state leaders to continue drawing electoral boundaries using a total count of the population to ensure all people are represented fairly in federal and state legislatures.
“Partisan operatives are trying to change how electoral districts are drawn, in a radical effort to undermine our representative democracy,” the report states. ”
By law, electoral districts must have about the same number of people, and state leaders draw those boundaries based total population counts. But GOP party operatives have been plotting to draw state legislative and congressional districts based solely on the citizen voting-age population (CVAP) — a move that they believe would be advantageous to white voters and harm areas where more people of color, legal residents, immigrants and children live.
The idea stems back to the late, notorious GOP mapmaker Tom Hofeller, whose digital files his daughter turned over to plaintiffs in a lawsuit over his partisan gerrymandering of North Carolina legislative maps. Those files showed Hofeller recommended adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census because it would advantage “Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.”
There has been ongoing litigation over the Hofeller files, which are expected to show far more about Republican strategy than just North Carolina redistricting plans, but a Wake County Superior Court judge is expected to rule on the public release of the documents this week.
The Trump administration was sued over the citizenship question, and after a U.S. Supreme Court loss, the president abandoned that effort and instead issued an executive order demanding several federal agencies provide all its administrative data on citizenship states to the Census Bureau.
President Donald Trump ordered that the Census Bureau combine that information with data from the decennial Census and the American Community Survey to identify non-citizens residing in the U.S. The Census Bureau plans to send the aggregate data to states for redistricting.
The problem with this approach is two-fold, according to the report. Much of the administrative data on citizenship is inaccurate or out-of-date and matching it to new Census data will introduce significant errors to the data states need to use to redistrict.
The report states that the scheme is intended to eliminate whole populations of Latino and other immigrant communities from the Census data used to draw new voting districts in 2021 and beyond.
“Millions of young people and people of color are at risk of losing their representatives in Congress and statehouses across the country if Republican party operatives succeed in using citizenship data to draw electoral boundaries,” said Keshia Morris, manager of Common Cause’s Census work and co-author of the report. “This is nothing more than a racially discriminatory plot to advantage white voters at the expense of brown and black voters.”
Leaders in states including Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas are reportedly considering how to abandon total population and use citizen-only data to redistrict. The GOP’s redistricting experts advised all legislators to use citizenship data to tilt the electoral maps earlier this month at the American Legislative Exchange Council annual meeting, according to Common Cause.
“Gerrymandering with citizenship data is a radical effort to undermine our representative democracy,” said Suzanne Almeida, counsel for Common Cause’s redistricting work and another co-author of the report.“People can fight back by being counted in the census and demanding leaders uphold the principles of equal representation put forth in the Constitution.”
Here are some of the major takeaways from Whitewashing Representation report:
- Using citizenship data for redistricting gives political party operatives multiple chances to undercount children and people of color and steal their representation. Legal residents who are counted in the census, for instance, could be deleted from the count used to draw electoral boundaries because of errors in administrative data sets.
- Not counting people under 18 and non-citizens when drawing electoral boundaries advantages “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” and disadvantages people in urban areas, where populations are more diverse, according to the Hofeller files. He touted this as a “radical departure from the ‘one person, one vote’rule” upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court for the past 60 years.
- Using citizenship data for redistricting perpetuates fear of racial discrimination and immigration enforcement among legal residents and undocumented immigrants. Significant protections are in place to prevent census data from being used to target individuals for enforcement, but there are risks associated with creating a non-citizen database.
The 28-page report goes into great detail about how Census data is gathered and used, and it explains how data problems occur and why it can lead to partisan gain in a redistricting process. It also highlights the consequences of a Census that only counts part of a population versus the whole.
“Conclusions drawn from data with under-coverage can speak only about who is included in these records, not about the entire population,” the report states. “For example, if someone wants to know what a city thinks about the mayor and they manage to contact every housing unit in the city, they are missing out on what the homeless population thinks about the mayor. In this example, the study captures only what people who occupy a housing unit think, which is problematic because the homeless population’s opinion of the mayor may be directly related to their circumstances and would yield helpful results in assessments of the mayor’s job performance.”
Read the full report below.