The secret files of the GOP’s most infamous deceased mapmaker, Thomas Hofeller, were obtained by The New Yorker, despite a court order that marks them “confidential” until at least Sept. 17, according to a story the magazine released online today.
David Daley, the author of Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count, wrote the article but did not identify how he obtained the Hofeller files. Ratf**ked details how Republicans gained control of state legislatures across the country, and Daley is expected to release another book about gerrymandering later this year.
Before his death, in August, 2018, [Hofeller] saved at least seventy thousand files and several years of e-mails,” the article states. “A review of those records and e-mails — which were recently obtained first by The New Yorker — raises new questions about whether Hofeller unconstitutionally used race data to draw North Carolina’s congressional districts, in 2016. They also suggest that Hofeller was deeply involved in G.O.P. mapmaking nationwide, and include new trails for more potential lawsuits challenging Hofeller’s work, similar to the one on Wednesday which led to the overturning of his state legislative maps in North Carolina.
Hofeller’s files were turned over after his death by his daughter to the plaintiffs in Common Cause v. Lewis, a North Carolina partisan gerrymandering case that was decided earlier this week. A three-judge panel ruled North Carolina lawmakers unconstitutionally used partisan gerrymandering to dilute the collective Democratic vote and ordered new maps to be drawn in two weeks.
There were only about 35 of the 75,000-plus Hofeller files released during the two-week Common Cause trial. The rest of the 75,000-plus documents were designated by the three-judge panel as confidential for 60 days so the political consulting firm Hofeller co-founded could sort through them and determine which documents they could claim ownership of or some other claim of right.
The firm, Geographic Strategies, had initially asked the court to mark the entirety of the Hofeller files as “highly confidential” or to destroy all the documents. The documents were initially designated as confidential until Tuesday, but there was a joint order yesterday extending that time frame to Sept. 17.
The order marking the files as confidential only appeared to apply to parties to the Common Cause case — not any third parties who might have already had access to them.
The reporting about what the Hofeller files contain is not a complete surprise — it appears to confirm what many have speculated about for years: that the mapmaker’s bottom line was to entrench the Republican Party in power for as long as possible, even if it meant discriminating against Black or Democratic voters.
Hofeller’s files include dozens of intensely detailed studies of North Carolina college students, broken down by race and cross-referenced against the state driver’s-license files to determine whether these students likely possessed the proper I.D. to vote. The studies are dated 2014 and 2015, the years before Hofeller helped Republicans in the state redraw its congressional districts in ways that voting-rights groups said discriminated on the basis of race. North Carolina Republicans said that the maps discriminated based on partisanship but not race. Hofeller’s hard drive also retained a map of North Carolina’s 2017 state judicial gerrymander, with an overlay of the black voting-age population by district, suggesting that these maps—which are currently at the center of a protracted legal battle — might also be a racial gerrymander.
Other files provide new details about Hofeller’s work for Republicans across the country. Hofeller collected data on the citizen voting-age population in North Carolina, Texas, and Arizona, among other states, as far back as 2011. Hofeller was part of a Republican effort to add a citizenship question to the census, which would have allowed political parties to obtain more precise citizenship data ahead of the 2020 redistricting cycle. State legislative lines could then have been drawn based on the number of citizen voters, which Hofeller believed would make it easier to pack Democrats and minorities into fewer districts, giving an advantage to Republicans.
The files, according to The New Yorker, also documented his work in other states, including Massachusetts, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia and Florida. The majority, though, pertained to his work in North Carolina.
The magazine describes one of Hofeller’s “clearest and ugliest gerrymanders” in North Carolina, and maybe the nation, as the congressional-district line that cuts in half the nation’s largest historically black college, North Carolina A&T State University, in Greensboro. It also went into great detail about what his files regarding those lines entailed.
Hofeller’s files, though, show that he created giant databases that detailed the racial makeup, voting patterns, and residence halls of more than a thousand North Carolina A&T students. He also collected similar data that tracked the race, voting patterns, and addresses of tens of thousands of other North Carolina college students. Some spreadsheets have more than fifty different fields with precise racial, gender, and geographic details on thousands of college voters.
A spreadsheet named “NC College Voters for ZIP ID” contains voter data for more than 23,100 North Carolina university students, including thousands in Greensboro. The detail for the North Carolina A&T students is precise: students are sorted by residence hall. That means that Hofeller knew which A&T students lived in Aggie Village, on the north side of campus, and which resided in Morrow or Vanstory Halls, on the south side—along with a detailed racial breakdown and information about their voting status. As Hofeller sought to create two reliably Republican congressional districts, his computer contained information on the precise voting tendencies of one of the largest concentrations of black voters in the area.
And if Hofeller cross-referenced that spreadsheet against another included on his hard drive, this one saved as “80 pct College Voters on Non-Match List”—which identified 5,429 North Carolina college students who appeared to lack the necessary I.D. required to cast a ballot at the time he drew the congressional maps—he could have crafted this line along Laurel Street, with even greater specificity about who would and would not be likely to vote.
The magazine goes into great depth about more files and even emails from Hofeller. When he worried about a blue wave rebuking President Donald Trump undoing his handiwork across the country, the mapmaker still made assurances about his work in North Carolina.
In an August, 2016, e-mail to a consultant to California Senate Republicans, Hofeller expressed frustration about Trump’s hold over the Party, and confidence that his maps would survive any blue wave. “Meanwhile the GOP continues to bury its collective heads in the sand or in other higher places. Trump is only a product to this stupidity,” he wrote. “Do not worry about us in North Carolina in terms of redistricting. Even in the coming political bloodbath we should still maintain majority control of the General Assembly. The Governor cannot veto a redistricting map, so the Democrats hope is that the Obamista judiciary will come to their rescue.”
E-mails suggest that Hofeller’s commitment to the Republican cause never wavered. The day after receiving a grim prognosis for lung cancer and a kidney tumor, Hofeller wrote a friend that he didn’t plan to slow down. “I still have time to bedevil the Democrats with more redistricting plans before I exit,” he wrote, on May 21st. “Look my name up on the Internet and you can follow the damage.”
Read the full New York Times article here.