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The Smoking Gun: Kobach and Bannon behind Cynical Effort to Rig the Political Map

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Philip Bump of the Washington Post: “New Emails Reveal a Central Political Motivation for Changing the Census”

There’s never been any doubt about the true motivations behind the Trump Administration’s push to add a new Census question on citizenship. It’s a transparent attempt to intimidate immigrants to lower response rates in order to shift the political map in favor of  Republicans. Now, it turns out, the culprits behind this dirty trick are none other than Kansas gubernatorial candidate and nativist gadfly Kris Kobach, and Stephen Bannon, former White House advisor.

Until yesterday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the Cabinet member nominally in charge of the Census, has been putting forth a laughable explanation for adding the citizenship question — the Justice Department requested the change to help them enforce voting rights. Yeah, right.

A story out this morning by Philip Bump of the Washington Post entitled, “New Emails Reveal a Central Political Motivation for Changing the Census,” finds the smoking gun. Newly-released email correspondence between Secretary Ross and Kris Kobach – the ringleader of a host of anti-immigrant and voter suppression strategies and the current GOP nominee for Kansas governor — reveals Ross as a liar and Kobach as a central player in the scheme.

Below are key excerpts of Philip Bump’s new story, with the full version available online here:

When Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross instructed the Census Bureau earlier this year to include a question on the decennial census about the citizenship of residents, he offered a specific rationale. Having data on citizenship, he wrote, would allow the government to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, Civil-Rights-era legislation meant to protect voting from discriminatory policies.

This rationale was quickly treated with skepticism … So what was the rationale? Newly released emails from the Commerce Department offer an unsurprising answer.

…The emails were released in response to questions Ross faced about why he’d demanded the new question in the first place. He was asked in March whether he’d spoken with anyone at the White House about the question, a pointed effort to figure out whether this was part of the Trump administration’s broad effort to crack down on immigrants in the country illegally. Ross said he hadn’t spoken with anyone at the White House — but the new emails show that, in fact, he had. Specifically, he spoke with Stephen K. Bannon, the former adviser to the president who was one of the more outspoken anti-immigration members of the president’s early team.

Ross had also spoken with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, as shown in an email Kobach sent to the secretary. Kobach has long crusaded against the essentially nonexistent scourge of rampant voter fraud and served as the vice chairman of Trump’s voter fraud commission.

We’ve highlighted a critical part of the email (which then goes on to offer draft language for a question). Not asking people whether they are citizens during the census “leads to the problem that aliens who do not actually ‘reside’ in the United States are still counted for congressional apportionment purposes.”

…Undercounts are already a problem for the Census Bureau. In 2010, there was a concerted effort to reach out to Hispanics in particular to ensure that they were counted. Adding the citizenship question would only make that job harder.

What Kobach is saying, though, is that the problem is the opposite: Immigrants in the country illegally are being counted in the census but shouldn’t be — giving places with more undocumented immigrants larger populations that then boost the number of congressional seats they’re allotted.

He’s saying, in effect, that not including the citizenship question gives states where they live more political power than those states should have. Where do those immigrants live? Mostly in large cities, according to Pew Research Center … Which means, in effect: mostly in places that tend to vote Democratic.

…If the estimated population in major metro areas is removed from each state’s population — which assumes that all undocumented immigrants are currently counted in the census, which is not true — the resulting change in the apportionment of House seats would mean, for example, that California loses two House seats. Texas would lose one, but the net swing would add two to red states and take two from blue states.

…It’s not clear if Kobach made the argument about House seats because that’s his primary concern or because he saw it as a compelling argument to make to the White House. Kobach has made uprooting immigrants who voted illegally a centerpiece of his efforts as secretary of state in Kansas. After more than two years of being empowered to prosecute fraud, he’s charged two noncitizens with having voted.

What the Kobach email reveals, though, is that the political effects of asking the question on immigration were part of the calculus on deciding whether to include it.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

If Kris Kobach is in the mix, you know you’re going to find a witches’ brew of nativism, scare tactics and voter suppression. The Census scheme and Ross’s lies are part of a larger pattern and strategy designed to intimidate immigrants, weaken the power of people of color, and ultimately shift power to Republicans. The goal is to reverse the diversification of America and rig the process so an undemocratic minority of conservatives and Republicans obtain and maintain power.

We are no longer surprised by such brazen attempts to undermine our democracy where every resident, regardless of birthplace or background, counts, but that doesn’t mean we should accept it or normalize it. The Constitutional requirement is for the Census to count the entire population of those living in our nation. We should reject this obvious attempt to rig the Census in order to rig the political map.