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July 25, 2019

Talking Points Memo: Census Director Can’t Say Whether Data Is Being Collected To Boost GOP Electorally

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham couldn’t say on Wednesday whether the citizenship data his agency is helping to collect will be used to drastically change the way political power is doled out across the country to favor the Republican Party.

At a hearing in front of a House Oversight subcommittee, Dillingham was asked by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) about President Trump’s recent executive order directing the government to assemble citizenship data from existing records. He issued the order after the administration lost the legal fight to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

In announcing the order, Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr floated using the data for redistricting and apportionment, in what would be major voting rights overhauls that would boost the GOP to the detriment of Latino and Democratic-leaning areas of the country.

On Wednesday, Pressley asked Dillingham several questions related to the order. Dillingham repeatedly struggled to respond and appeared altogether unprepared to answer basic questions about the Census Bureau’s plans in following Trump’s directive.

He couldn’t say whether the data collection project would produce citizenship data that was “block-level” — meaning granular enough that it could be used in redistricting.

Pressley asked him to confirm that the citizenship data collected would not be used in the Census Bureau’s apportionment count, which determines how many U.S. representatives and Electoral College votes each state gets. Barr earlier this month alluded to the idea of using citizenship data if a lawsuit seeking to exclude undocumented immigrants from apportionment is successful.

“Let me get you back to you on that,” Dillingham said Wednesday, while declining to saying whether citizenship should be used in that count. “I just need to know the mechanics, congresswoman, and I will get back to you on that.”

Asked by Pressley if the citizenship data will be used in the allocation of funding for federal health care programs, Dillingham demurred by saying that the Bureau does not chose how the data it produces is used.

She asked Dillingham if he has been involved in discussions about including citizenship data in the redistricting file the Census Bureau produces for state level map-drawers. Including it will likely lead some GOP states to exclude noncitizens from how they draw legislative districts, which would shift political representation away from immigrant-rich regions, and towards white, rural and Republican-leaning ones. The Census Bureau has already indicated, via regulatory actions, that it is considering giving states citizenship data for redistricting, and Trump, earlier this month, more or less said his administration would do so.

Dillingham pondered Pressley’s question for a few second, muttering “redistricting file” under his breath.

“Congresswoman, let me get back to you on that,” Dillingham said, as he pointed to the executive order: “Whatever that executive order says.”

Dillingham agreed to respond in writing within 10 days to Pressley’s question about apportionment.

Watch video of the exchange here: