Erase Your Computer Hard Drive Before You Die Unless You're a Republican Operative Known as the 'Michelangelo of Gerrymandering'

Erase Your Computer Hard Drive Before You Die Unless You're a Republican Operative Known as the 'Michelangelo of Gerrymandering'
Image:Associated Press

When the Republican political consultant Thomas Hofeller died last year, he left behind a toxic legacy—as one of the key architects of his party’s efforts to consolidate political power through redistricting and gerrymandering.

He also left behind a trove of documents saved on external hard drives that lay bare the extremely political reasons why the Trump administration wants to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, and the central role he played in urging the administration to do so. Turns out it’s really all about gerrymandering!

These documents were discovered after his death by his estranged daughter, Stephanie Hofeller, who described herself to the New York Times as “a political progressive who despises Republican partisanship, but also has scant respect for Democrats.” She clearly is no fan of her father’s politics. “He had me with the idea that we are made to be free,” she told the Times. “And then he lost me.”

Stephanie, after stumbling upon her father’s files, then turned them over to Common Cause, which then passed them off to the law firm that’s working with the groups challenging the inclusion of the citizenship question, which certainly seems like a form of poetic justice.

Here’s what was in his files, per the Times:

Files on those drives showed that he wrote a study in 2015 concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats. And months after urging President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census, he wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — the rationale the administration later used to justify its decision.
Those documents, cited in a federal court filing Thursday by opponents seeking to block the citizenship question, have emerged only weeks before the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of the citizenship question. Critics say adding the question would deter many immigrants from being counted and shift political power to Republican areas.

Hofeller’s key role in the Trump administration’s efforts has not been disclosed until now. As the New York Times noted, “The disclosures represent the most explicit evidence to date that the Trump administration added the question to the 2020 census to advance Republican Party interests.”

Specifically, he wrote in a 2015 study commissioned by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news website, that adding a citizenship question to the census “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” for future redistricting efforts. Current political maps are based on a state’s total population, regardless of people’s citizenship status. According to the documents filed on Thursday in court, Hofeller was asked by the Free Beacon to assess the impact of basing district maps on only citizens who are of voting age instead.

More from the New York Times:

At the time, the study’s sponsor was considering whether to finance a lawsuit by conservative legal advocates that argued that counting voting-age citizens was not merely acceptable, but required by the Constitution.
Mr. Hofeller’s exhaustive analysis of Texas state legislative districts concluded that such maps “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites,” and would dilute the political power of the state’s Hispanics.
The reason, he wrote, was that the maps would exclude traditionally Democratic Hispanics and their children from the population count. That would force Democratic districts to expand to meet the Constitution’s one person, one vote requirement. In turn, that would translate into fewer districts in traditionally Democratic areas, and a new opportunity for Republican mapmakers to create even stronger gerrymanders.

The only problem? A good count of a state’s citizen voting-age population doesn’t exist—and that’s where the 2020 census comes in. “Without a question on citizenship being included on the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire,” Hofeller wrote, according to the New York Times, “the use of citizen voting age population is functionally unworkable.”

And here’s a nice detail that makes this story more satisfying (or as satisfying as a story about a man whose seemingly sole goal in life was to trample upon the few democratic ideals that continue to exist in our country can be). According to a profile of him in the Atlantic, Hofeller regularly cautioned Republican lawmakers to keep their computers and data secure, away from the prying eyes of their political enemies. Here’s the advice he offered in a PowerPoint presentation he regularly gave titled “What I’ve Learned About Redistricting—The Hard Way!”:

But Hofeller’s helpful tips give way to the sinister warnings of a gimlet-eyed, semi-­clandestine political operative: “Make sure your security is real.” “Make sure your computer is in a PRIVATE location.” “ ‘Emails are the tool of the devil.’ Use personal contact or a safe phone!” “Don’t reveal more than necessary.” “BEWARE of non­-partisan, or bi­-partisan, staff bearing gifts. They probably are not your friends.”

The lesson here? If you’re going to be a Republican ghoul, take your own advice, destroy all of your hard drives before you die, and maybe don’t piss off your daughters.

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