Accuracy in Media

With the Supreme Court apparently likely to approve the Trump administration’s move to include a citizenship question in the 2020 Census, the New York Times took one last shot at preventing this outcome with a story about a dead political consultant, his radically liberal estranged daughter and how the contents of his computer may provide unacceptable motives for why the question is being added.

In “Deceased GOP Strategist’s Hard Drives Reveal New Details on the Census Citizenship Question,” Michael Wines of the Times contends Thomas Hofeller, who died last August at age 75, was the key force behind the Trump administration adding the question and that disclosures of his computer hard drive contents “represent the most explicit evidence to date that the Trump administration added the question to the 2020 Census to advance Republican Party interests.”

Hofeller “had achieved near-mythic status in the Republican Party as the Michelangelo of gerrymandering, the architect of partisan political maps that cemented the party’s dominance across the country.”

Wines writes that Hofeller’s daughter, Stephanie Hofeller, learned of her father’s death by accident by searching for him on the Internet, then went to see her mother at the family home in Raleigh, N.C., and, in the process of searching for things she had asked her father to save for her, she found a clear plastic bag holding four external hard drives and 18 thumb drives.

The contents of the bag were 75,000 pages of her father’s backup computer information, which she promptly turned over to the Raleigh office of Common Cause, which the Times identifies merely as an “advocacy group,” even though it continually pushes left-leaning goals and Robert Reich, former Clinton administration secretary of labor, was on the board as recently as last year.

The Times says Ms. Hofeller contacted its Raleigh office to seek “its help in finding a lawyer unconnected to her father to help settle his estate.” None of Common Cause’s work involves settling estates.

Wines further contends Ms. Hofeller had several conversations with a staff member there before she mentioned the hard drives in passing, “remarking almost jokingly that an expert on gerrymanders might find a lot in them that was of interest.”

They were indeed of interest to Democrats and their allies in the media seeking to prevent what they call unfair gerrymandering by Republicans.

“In nearly 230 years, the census has never asked all respondents whether they are American citizens,” Wines wrote. This is misleading.

In 1950, the Census had a question that read, “Is he naturalized?” The question has been asked in one form or other since at least 1820 and the question: “Is this person a citizen of the United States” was asked as recently as 2000.

Wines continued: “But while adding such a question might appear uncontroversial on its face, opponents have argued that it is actually central to a Republican strategy to skew political boundaries to their advantage when redistricting begins in 2021.”

But many of the battlegrounds in the gerrymandering wars have occurred in Democrat strongholds such as Maryland, New Jersey and Illinois.

Wines stakes his claim on an unpublished analysis by Hofeller in 2015 to determine the political impact of drawing maps that were not based on a state’s total population but rather on “a slice of that population: American citizens of voting age.”

The only problem is the data on how many non-citizens were living in congressional districts did not exist. Hofeller “urged Mr. Trump’s transition team to consider adding a citizenship question to the census,” Wines writes.

The daughter, who “described herself as a political progressive who despises Republican partisanship, but also has scant respect for Democrats,” is quoted as saying she sought only transparency in turning over the documents, “devoid of personal or political animus,” but that she “believed he was undermining American democracy.”

Wines writes: “As a child, she said, she was schooled in [traditional conservative principles like free will and limited government], but every successive gerrymandered map he created only solidified her conviction that he had abandoned them in a quest to entrench his party in permanent control.”

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