Voting and immigration-rights advocates are alarmed over Donald Trump’s leading pick to head the U.S. Census Bureau: a conservative college professor with no government experience who literally wrote a book expounding on the dangers of competitive elections.
According to Politico, Trump wants to tap Thomas Brunell, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, to serve as the deputy director for the Census Bureau, where he will be the top official overseeing operations for the 2020 census.
Unlike his predecessors, though, Brunell has little experience working with federal statistics and none managing a big organization, which seems important when your task is to accurately count every single person who lives in the U.S.
His qualifications for the job, then? Brunell has worked with Republicans in support of their gerrymandering efforts and believes that the census overrepresents black Americans.
In fact, Brunell wrote a book advocating the use of gerrymandering, Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America, published in 2008.
As Newsweek highlights, Brunell’s appointment could imperil the rights of people of color in America. The business of counting everyone who lives within America’s borders—who they are and where they are—is essential in informing state and federal voting districts, as well as determining how to distribute local, state and federal resources. A chief concern is that Trump would weaponize the census, using it to attack voting rights and immigrants—and Brunell’s résumé implies that he’d be happy to carry out his boss’s marching orders.
Voting rights advocates fear how Brunell could influence the undercounting of African Americans, especially given his previous work. The professor has opposed early voting, for instance, which favors black Americans as well as working-class Americans. The GOP has also used Brunell’s reports or testimony in multiple lawsuits filed against them for unfairly redrawing voting districts on political and racial lines.
In his book on gerrymandering, Brunell argued that stacking Democrats and Republicans in like-minded districts leads to better representation from elected officials because it means that fewer citizens vote for the losing candidate.
The Trump administration also wants to add a separate question about citizenship that could dramatically reduce Latinx response rates out of fear that the feds would use that data to target them. A Middle Eastern and North African, or MENA, racial category has also been proposed—a move that had been advocated by many people of MENA ancestry prior to Trump’s election. Given Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric, though, it’s likely that they, too, would be discouraged from reporting their racial backgrounds on the 2020 census because of worries about immigration crackdowns.
As with many other Trump government picks, Brunell is spectacularly unprepared to serve as the top operational official at the Census Bureau. He has no administrative experience and little experience with federal statistics—both essential elements of the job. As Politico notes, the role typically goes to a nonpolitical career civil servant with a background in statistics. Meanwhile, Brunell—gerrymandering’s No. 1 fan—is a registered Republican.
Brunell’s appointment does not require congressional approval and could come as early as this week.