The master mapmaker behind North Carolina’s most contentious and allegedly gerrymandered voting districts apparently also played a role in developing the citizenship question proposed for the 2020 Census by the Trump administration.
Thomas Hofeller’s daughter, Stephanie Hofeller Lizon recently turned over several of his hard drives and digital files to voting rights group Common Cause as part of discovery in their North Carolina state partisan gerrymandering case Common Cause v. Lewis. The news released Thursday about Hofeller’s involvement in the 2020 Census question is the first bit of data released publicly from the “Hofeller files.”
The documents reveal for the first time the secret role played by Hofeller in orchestrating the addition of the citizenship question and the Justice Department’s Voting Rights Act rationale for it. The documents further show that Hofeller concluded in an unpublished 2015 study that the citizenship question would significantly harm the political power of Latino communities and be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”
“In his 2015 study, Dr. Hofeller concluded that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census was essential to using only citizens of voting age in redistricting, in lieu of the traditional practice of using total population,” a news release from Common Cause states. “He further found that adding the citizenship question, by facilitating the use of only citizens of voting age in redistricting, would cause heavily Latino legislative districts to lose population and allow Republican mapmakers to pack more Democratic voters into those districts.”
Private plaintiffs filed the documents outlining this information Thursday in the federal action challenging the addition a citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census, Department of Commerce v. State of New York, according to the voting rights group.
“The documents filed today further show that, in 2017, Dr. Hofeller helped ghostwrite a letter from the Department of Justice to the Department of Commerce requesting the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Census, supposedly to support the Justice Department’s enforcement of the Voting Rights Act,” their news release states.
The New York Times reported about the new development even before Common Cause did early Thursday morning in a significantly researched story the citing court documents that were filed the same day. The reporter there also talked to Hofeller’s daughter, who described how she came across his digital files and why she decided to turn them over to the plaintiffs in Common Cause v. Lewis.
“Sorting through Mr. Hofeller’s personal effects, looking for items she had asked her father to save for her, Stephanie Hofeller came across a clear plastic bag holding four external hard drives and 18 thumb drives, backups of data on Mr. Hofeller’s Toshiba laptop. Her mother gave Ms. Hofeller the backups, which turned out to hold some 75,000 files — family photographs and other personal data, but also a huge trove of documents related to Mr. Hofeller’s work as a Republican consultant.
Late last year, Ms. Hofeller said, she contacted the Raleigh office of the advocacy group Common Cause, seeking its help in finding a lawyer unconnected to her father to help settle his estate. Only after several conversations with a staff member there did she mention the hard drives in passing, she said, remarking almost jokingly that an expert on gerrymanders might find a lot in them that was of interest.
‘My understanding was that anything that would be on these hard drives was duplicative of things that had already been hashed out’ in court challenges to Mr. Hofeller’s maps, she said.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on the legality of the citizenship question in just a few weeks — it’s not clear if and how these new documents could affect that ruling.
“This new evidence shows there was plan to undermine the integrity of our Census, manipulate redistricting and rig the elections for partisan advantage,” said Kathay Feng, national redistricting director of Common Cause. “Hofeller knew that adding the citizenship question to the census would erase millions of Latinos and other Americans from redistricting. Now that the plan has been revealed, it’s important for all of us – the courts, leaders, and the people – to stand up for a democracy that includes every American voice.”
Hofeller’s role in proposing the citizenship question is just one example of the type of information contained in the Hofeller files, which will likely continue to have far-reaching affects in more states than North Carolina. NC Policy Watch was the first media outlet to report the existence of the Hofeller files.
There is an unrelated hearing today at 1 p.m. in Common Cause v. Lewis. Check back with NC Policy Watch for updates about that hearing or follow @mel_bough on Twitter for live updates. The trial is set for July 15.
Read the Thursday filings below.