The New Question

For the last couple of weeks, the executive office has been pushing for a new question to be added to the census that will be conducted in 2020. The administration wants to ask, “Are you a citizen?”, a question that many say has a political agenda behind it. The GOP has pressed for the “citizenship question” because strategists say it will result in an undercount of immigrants (a left-leaning base) who fear to have their legal status exposed. This is beneficial to the Republican party because a census count is used to draw district lines and distribute delegates for elections, so an undercount of a Democratically leaning group like immigrants is an advantage to the Conservative coalition. This manipulation of a non-partisan census for political gain by the administration targets liberal members of society by exploiting their legal status, simply to devalue the votes of their competition in the polls. 

The Impact of an Undercount

When the plan to add the question was announced, experts warned that adding it could discourage some groups (including immigrants and Hispanics) from participating altogether, which would result in a undercount. This undercount would be especially dramatic in places where large immigrant populations reside such as New York, California, Texas, and Florida. If enough people were to not respond to the census, those places could lose congressional seats, Christopher Warshaw, a political science professor from Georgetown, testified to the Supreme Court. Not only would immigrant populations lose influence but they’d also lose federal funding because the Census is used to distribute that.

We Need an Accurate Census

An accurate count of the total population living in a geographic area acquired during the Census is used to draw districts that are each represented when the electoral college votes. If some populations of people were not counted to their fullest, then those groups might not be drawn into their district and get their representative. Instead, they could be added to another district where their vote is either overrun by the rest of that district or gets diluted because by getting placed into another district, now those two groups would have only one representative voting for them and not two. 

How This Benefits the GOP

What is most worrying about this case is that the push for this new question was specifically lead in an attempt to undermine the voices of liberal learning communities. The original argument for this question to be added was that it would protect the Voting Rights Act. However, as Chief Justice John Roberts said, the Supreme Court could not “ignore the disconnect” between the administration’s argument for the question, enforcing the Voting Rights Act, and the evidence that points to the citizenship question being used to disenfranchise voters of Hispanic heritage.

The Hard Drive of Thomas Hofeller

This evidence that the Chief Justice notes is both the changing arguments made by the lawyers making the case for the question and also files found on the hard drive of now-deceased GOP advisor Thomas Hofeller, stating outright that the Voting Rights Act argument was “a distraction” and that the goal was to undermine liberal-leaning voters. Also on the hard drive was a study that Hofeller had published in 2017 detailing how drawing district lines based on the citizen populations “would be a disadvantage to Democrats” while definitively benefitting “Republicans and Non-Hispanics”. The evidence found on that hard drive drew out the nefarious reasons for the GOP to push for the question, which was too much for the Supreme Court to ignore when the case was brought before it. 

This controversy was founded from the beginning as an attempt to undermine democratic voters in the 2020 election by the administration. It preys on the fears of first-generation families, of being deported from America based on their participation in government. The adding of this question would not only be a disservice those communities but the validity of the Census as a whole. “Are you a citizen?” should not be asked on the 2020 Census because doing so would be a misuse of a long-running government program, and could lead to dangerous repercussions throughout the next decade.


The primary way for the push for this question to be put to rest would be a verdict from the Supreme Court on whether or not the benefits of having this question outweigh the potential damage to the accuracy of the Census. This could be done by arguing the disconnect between the GOP’s reason for asking the question, protecting the voting rights act, and the evidence that the real intentions of the adders of the question was to limit and disadvantage Democratic voters.


This OpEd was written by U4SC Student Intern, Sebastian.

[Image Attribute: Marco Verch]