Citizenship Data Will Make Partisan Gerrymandering Much, Much Worse 

WASHINGTON D.C.Drawing electoral boundaries using only data for citizens over age 18 abandons constitutional principles of one person, one vote, relies on fundamentally faulty data and is part of a patently partisan plot to shift representation away from communities of color to areas where white populations live, according to a new report released today by Common Cause, a nonpartisan government watchdog group. 

Whitewashing Representation: How Using Citizenship Data to Gerrymander will Undermine our Democracy explains why state leaders should continue drawing electoral boundaries using a total count of the population to ensure all people are represented fairly in federal and state legislatures

The report comes as GOP party operatives ramp up their efforts to gerrymander following the 2020 Census. Republican strategist Thomas Hofeller was caught recommending a citizenship question be added to the census to advantage “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.” After failing to convince the U.S. Supreme Court that was necessary, President Trump ordered federal agencies to provide all data on citizenship to the U.S. Census Bureau, which will combine the citizenship data with its counts. The bureau is ordered to send the data to states for redistricting purposes.

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 Much of the administrative data on citizenship is inaccurate or out-of-date and matching this inaccurate data to Census data will introduce significant errors to the data states need to use to redistrict. As has become increasingly evident from recently revealed communications and studies by partisan operatives, this scheme is intended to eliminate whole populations of Latino and other immigrant communities from the census data used to draw new districts in 2021 and beyond. The racial and political repercussions are huge. 

“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 Causes 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 (ALEC) annual meeting. 

“Gerrymandering with citizenship data is a radical effort to undermine our representative democracy,” said Suzanne Almeida, counsel for Common Cause’s redistricting work and 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.” 

Major takeaways from Whitewashing Representation: 

  • 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.  

Read the report here.

Read more about the Hofeller files here.