President Donald Trump is likely to name a leading defender of gerrymandering to a government post that could have a major impact on the next round of redistricting.
Trump is considering picking Thomas Brunell for the job of deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau, the most important operational post there, Politico reported.
A professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, Brunell has argued against drawing competitive districts, and has helped defend controversial Republican redistricting plans. He also has argued in favor of cuts to early voting, claiming it reduces rather than increases turnout.
The troubling news comes at a time of widespread concern over the long-term anti-democratic effects of the Republican-led gerrymanders conducted after the last census in 2010. By drawing district lines to their advantage, the GOP ensured itself majorities in Congress and many statehouses that it didn’t deserve based on its actual level of voter support.
It also comes amid fears about the ability of the Census Bureau to conduct an accurate count in 2020. Former director John Thompson stepped down in June and a permanent replacement hasn’t yet been nominated. Meanwhile, experts have been warning that Congress hasn’t allocated enough funding for the 2020 effort.
There are also ideological issues in play. Republicans have long been looking to include a question on the census about citizenship status. Civil rights advocates fear that could reduce minority response rates, by intimidating some would-be respondents.
If minorities and on-citizens are undercounted, it could not only affect the redistricting process, which is supposed to include non-citizens. It also could affect the allocation of federal resources for the next decade.
Brunell’s 2008 book Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America, argued in favor of creating districts that are heavily weighted toward one party — a key element of gerrymanders. Increasing the number of voters who backed the winner would boost civic enthusiasm, it claimed. Most redistricting experts instead think we should create a higher number of competitive districts.
Brunell also testified or wrote reports in support of Republican redistricting plans in Alabama, South Dakota, South Carolina, and New Mexico, Politico reported. Earlier this year, a federal court ruled that Alabama’s plan was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, and ordered the lines redrawn.
And in 2014, Brunell submitted an expert report on behalf of Ohio, after the state dramatically cut early voting days — a move that a federal court later reversed as racially discriminatory. In the report, Brunell argued that early voting in fact reduces turnout — certainly a minority view among experts — by taking away from Election Day as a “civic event.”
“People who want to vote will vote,” “Brunell wrote. “They will do so on a different day.”