As the 2020 census looms in the not-so-distant future, President Donald Trump's pick to head the endeavor is receiving further scrutiny. Thomas Brunell, a partisan anti-democracy Republican figure, will be tapped as deputy director of the US Census Bureau, effectively placing him in charge of counting every American.
According to Mother Jones , Brunnell is a problematic choice on numerous levels, not the least of which being ideas put forth in his book, Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.
[Brunnell] argued that extreme partisan gerrymandering should be the norm because, he claimed, ultra-safe blue or red districts offered better representation for voters than competitive ones.
Brunnell has also spent a great deal of time assisting Republicans in various states draw up and defend racially motivated gerrymandered districts. His work in North Carolina was eventually shot down by the courts:
But in 2017, federal courts struck down two of North Carolina’s congressional districts and 28 state legislative districts, calling the state maps “among the largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered by a federal court.” A unanimous three-judge court in North Carolina said Brunell’s “generalized conclusions regarding racially polarized voting” demonstrated a “misunderstanding” of the Voting Rights Act and “fail to demonstrate a strong basis in evidence justifying the challenged districts as drawn.”
Democrats across the board have expressed concern regarding Trump's pick, noting that virtually everything about Brunnell's history would suggest he is not capable of performing the task in a non-partisan manner.
“It’s breathtaking to think they’re going to make that person responsible for the census,” says former Attorney General Eric Holder. “It’s a sign of what the Trump administration intends to do with the census, which is not to take a Constitutional responsibility with the degree of seriousness that they should. It would raise great fears that you would have a very partisan census run in 2020.”
Much is at stake if the census is not done well, and there are plenty of other factors working against a positive outcome:
This undercount of Democratic and minority areas is likely to be much worse in 2020 than in previous years because of budget cuts, a reliance on internet responses, and fears among undocumented immigrants that the Census Bureau will share their personal information with the Department of Homeland Security to initiate deportation proceedings.
The 2010 census failed to count 2.1 percent of African Americans, 1.5 percent of Hispanics, and 4.9 percent of Native Americans living on reservations, while overcounting whites by nearly 1 percent. These errors gave Republican areas more power, representation, and resources than they deserved, and gave Democratic ones less. In California, for example, the census failed to count 1.5 million residents, costing the state $1.7 billion in annual federal funding and depriving it of at least one congressional district.
In past statements, Brunnell foreshadowed what the country might expect should he be placed in charge of the census:
“The Census cannot be made antiseptic and apolitical and suggestions for making it so are misguided,” he wrote in a 2001 journal article. “It would be like taking the wax out of crayons. It can’t be done.”