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The Insidious Republican Plot to Hijack the Census

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. (John Hanna / AP)

In a 5-4 decision along party lines, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that Ohio can purge thousands of voters from its rolls, freeing fellow red states to follow suit ahead of the 2018 and 2020 elections. Critics have rightly observed that Husted v. Philip Randolph will disenfranchise innumerable minorities and low-income earners, and yet its potential harm to American democracy would probably pale in comparison with the Trump administration’s efforts to rig the 2020 census.

Last December, at the Justice Department’s behest, the Census Bureau was instructed to add a question to its decennial survey about its respondents’ citizenship status. When the move was announced in March, officials justified the decision as one necessary to “fully enforce” the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But as a new NPR release reveals, their true agenda was decidedly more insidious.

According to more than 1,300 pages of documents published last week as part of a multistate lawsuit filed against the Trump administration, erstwhile White House adviser Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach, former vice chair of President Trump’s now-defunct Election Integrity Commission, aggressively lobbied Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for the question to be added.

“[Kobach] told Ross that he was writing ‘at the direction of Steve Bannon’ and said it was ‘essential’ that the citizenship be added to the census,” notes Mother Jones’ Ari Berman. “Kobach wrote that the absence of a citizenship question ‘leads to the problem that aliens who do not actually ‘reside’ in the United States are still counted for congressional appointment purposes.’ “

Along with Stephen Miller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Bannon and Kobach have been two of the most virulent xenophobes in the Trump administration. Bannon previously served as executive chairman of Breitbart News, an open sewer of racist and Islamophobic propaganda, while Kobach is an established nativist and the mastermind behind former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” plan in 2012. (Kansas’ secretary of state, Kobach was last seen driving through the city of Shawnee in a Jeep with a fake machine gun mounted on its roof as part of an annual parade.)

It’s no mystery why the pair might stump for a citizenship question on the census. The survey’s data not only determine where nearly $700 billion in federal aid is distributed across the country, but how many representatives a state will have; these figures are based on actual enumeration, or the total population in a given district, prescribed in the Constitution. By systematically undercounting immigrant communities whose noncitizens might be reluctant to participate for fear of deportation and whose naturalized members tend to vote Democratic, the GOP can further tilt an already gerrymandered electoral map in its favor. (A recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice found that Democrats could win the popular vote by as much as 10 percentage points this November and still fail to recapture the House.)

Ultimately, this gambit is but a single component of a larger Republican project to consolidate minority rule. The only question that remains is how much the judiciary will enable the president’s party.

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Jacob Sugarman
Jacob Sugarman is a graduate of the Arthur L. Carter Institute of Journalism whose writing has appeared in Salon, AlterNet and Tablet, among other…
Jacob Sugarman

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