The public’s growing awareness of – and anger at – how elected officials have rigged congressional and legislative elections across the country by manipulating district lines is fueling a national movement for independent redistricting commissions to squeeze partisanship out of the mapmaking process and make elections more competitive.
So maybe it’s not surprising that the Trump administration, which enjoys a Republican majority in Congress thanks largely to partisan gerrymandering, appears ready to install a gerrymandering advocate in the number two job at the Census Bureau, an agency whose work is a critical first step in congressional and legislative redistricting.
Politico reported Tuesday that the president is leaning toward appointing Thomas Brunell, a Texas professor and author of a book entitled “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America,” as deputy director of the Census Bureau.
The job traditionally has gone to a career civil servant with a background in statistics; Brunell, who teaches political science, is not a statistician and has no experience in government. He advocates drawing districts that group like-minded voters together and reduce partisan competition and has been a frequent witness on behalf of Republicans fighting lawsuits challenging GOP redistricting plans.
Brunell was in line for the Census Bureau’s top post but was moved to the second slot by administration planners after his name sparked objections on Capitol Hill, Politico said. The Senate must confirm the Census Bureau director but the deputy is solely the president’s choice.
Because the Constitution requires that citizens receive equal representation in Congress, state legislatures, and city and county councils, a full and accurate Census count is integral to the redistricting process.
As deputy, Brunell would be well-positioned to influence the development of questions on the 2021 census form. Republicans have a longstanding interest in adding questions about citizenship to the census, a shift that almost certainly would benefit their party by driving many undocumented immigrants to evade the count.
Brunell “is not a man that should be handed the keys to the 2020 Census. Americans expect and deserve a fair and accurate Census that is free from the political partisanship Brunell would bring to the process,” said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn.
“Brunell’s lack of experience and support of adding questions on citizenship and legal status to the census questionnaire are extremely troubling and would further erode public confidence in a fair Census,” Hobert Flynn added.
Brunell’s possible appointment also drew fire today from editors at The Washington Post. His political affiliations and history as an advocate for partisan mapmaking have “inflamed preexisting worries that the Trump administration will meddle with the count,” the newspaper said in an editorial. “Of particular concern is the possibility that the president would order that census forms ask about immigration status, which would result in low response rates and, potentially, massive undercounts in minority communities.”
Issues: Voting and Elections