Texas Leaders: Do Not Turn Over Driver’s License Data for Citizen Count

Like most states, Texas should refuse to turn over driver’s license records to the U.S. Census Bureau. Using citizenship data to gerrymander is a radical attempt to undermine our democracy.

The Trump administration lost its bid to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census to undercount Latinos and immigrants, but it is still pursuing a workaround to attack Latino political power.

The U.S. Census Bureau confirmed earlier this month that it asked states to voluntarily turn over driver’s license records that include citizenship statusessentially the same data that proved grossly unreliable when former interim Secretary of State David Whitley tried and failed to illegally purge thousands of naturalized citizens from the Texas voter rolls.

The census bureau plans to combine the driver’s license information with data from federal agencies and the census to determine the age and citizenship status of everyone in the United States.The goal is to identify non-citizens (people that are more likely to be nonwhite) and people under 18 (a population projected to reach 50 percent nonwhite in 2020) for state map-drawers before they begin the once-in-a-decade process of redistricting. 

GOP strategists want the data to draw electoral boundaries that will advantage Republicans for the next decade and beyond.This is a real threat in Texas. Representative Phil King was on the American Legislative Exchange Council panel that explained  how to steal representation from children and people of color.

Texas leaders should follow the lead of other states and refuse to turn over driver’s license records. Using citizenship data to gerrymander is a radical attempt to undermine our democracy. Let’s consult our history books for an explanation.

In 1868, the 14th Amendment gave congressional representation to most people living in the United States.The amendment stated, “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.” 

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 rendered the “excluding Indians” part moot by granting citizenship to every indigenous person born in the U.S. who was not previously a citizen. The 14th Amendment and this act combined to guarantee congressional representation based on total population.

To be clear: Drawing congressional districts based on total population does not allow noncitizens or minors to vote or run for office. It simply ensures that all people are recognized and represented in Congress. Today, this principle is under attack. 

GOP gerrymandering guru Thomas Hofeller shared with members of the Trump transition team a study of Texas voting districts. Instead of drawing districts with roughly the same number of people, he recommended they draw districts of roughly the same number of citizens over 18. 

In Hofeller’s own words, the shiftwould be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.The best way to get that data, he wrote,was to ask about citizenship status on the census. 

The Trump administration must have suspected such discrimination would not fly, so it lied about its intent and said the data was necessary to protect minority voting rights. In the Supreme Court decision nixing the question, Chief Justice Roberts called the reason contrived.

So Trump’s team designed a workaround.In July, the president ordered the Census Bureau to gather up citizenship data from sources like the Social Security Administration and match it with census datasets.

The workaround methodology is shoddy but true to form, as it also will disproportionately harm Latinos

Citizenship data changes when people get married or become naturalized. People move, die, and have children. Data entry errors are more common for people with non-Anglicized names. “Juan” could be entered wrong if it’s actually “John,” “Jon” or “Jean-Paul.” 

But agencies only collect data at one point in time, not at every life change.This makes agency data unreliableincluding local drivers license bureaus, as know well from Whitley’s failed voter purge.

If that sounds simplified, take a look at the Census Bureau’s own records. In 2010, the bureau attempted to match its records to other agency’s administrative data. It missed the mark over and over.

Nearly 30 million addresses in administrative records were not found in the 2010 census, and almost 10 million addresses in the 2010 census were not in administrative records. Why? The agencies define addresses differently. Administrative data includes P.O. Boxes, non-residential addresses and new construction. The 2010 Census also contained physical descriptions for addresses such as ‘yellow house near fork in the road’ that cannot be matched to administrative records,” the report says

And here’s the rub: The data that was least accurate pertained to youths, people of Hispanic origin and other people of color. 

In sum, it was a triumph for democracy when the Supreme Court eliminated the citizenship question from the census. But now the President and his operatives want to render millions of people invisible in our government in a racially discriminatory move based on shoddy data that will radically change our constitutional understanding of democratic representation. 

Texas leaders, we implore you to say, “No thanks.