Advocates for voting rights, and Democrats generally, were extremely and justifiably relieved in June when the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly decided to put the kibosh on a poorly rationalized Trump administration effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, which might have skewed all sorts of Census-based decisions, from federal funding to redistricting. But as Trump himself made clear (as clear as he could in his word salad of a rambling statement) in the presser in which he threw in the towel on the Census, the administration was determined to move ahead with a separate collection of citizenship data that it could offer Republican-controlled states to use for redistricting, instead of the traditional total population measurement. In July, the Commerce Department took the first formal step in that direction, as Talking Points Memo’s Tierney Sneed noted:
[T]he government formally put that intention in writing in a regulatory notice that was published over the weekend.
The document was an update to a previous notice about the the government’s plans for the 2020 census that confirmed that the survey would not include a citizenship question due to the Supreme Court decision blocking it.
“Accordingly, the Secretary has directed the Census Bureau to proceed with the 2020 Census without a citizenship question on the questionnaire, and rather to produce Citizenship Voting Age Population (CVAP) information prior to April 1, 2021 that states may use in redistricting.”
And now, as Matt Ford reports at The New Republic, the relevant data is being collected in the form best suited for redistricting:
In a letter to Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley, the [census] bureau confirmed it would produce that data in a highly auspicious form.
“Administrative records will use existing government information to produce citizen voting age population (CVAP) data at the census block level, the smallest geographic data unit,” the bureau told Pressley’s office last week.
Block-level data is all a state would need to plug in to widely available redistricting software and spit out a map based on CVAP, which would skew heavily white and Republican.
Such a move would reshape the political and social topography of any state that tries it. Legislative seats — and the raw political power that comes with them — would shift away from diverse urban areas and gravitate toward whiter suburban and rural communities. The centers of political gravity would also bend in those directions, resulting in state legislative maps that strongly favor the Republican Party. The effects of extreme partisan gerrymandering and stringent voter-ID laws would be amplified.
This has been a long-standing fantasy for conservative legal scholars and hard-boiled GOP operatives alike. So it’s hard to imagine that there will not be an early effort by some Republican-controlled states to adopt CVAP redistricting and test it in the courts:
No state has yet said it would use anything but total population to redraw its legislative maps in 2021, though Alabama is currently suing the Census Bureau to stop it from counting undocumented immigrants when apportioning congressional seats. At the same time, there’s a clear and unambiguous effort to lay the groundwork for states to use eligible voters as the population base for the next round of redistricting.
Indeed, such an effort might wind up right back at the Supreme Court, where it would not be terribly surprising if Chief Justice John Roberts — the author and deciding vote in the June decision on the citizenship question — found a way to let Republicans use CVAP even though he stopped them from imposing it nationally via the Census. So voting-rights advocates need to understand they’re not out of the woods yet on this gambit that combines xenophobia, a touch of racism, and raw partisanship.