The 2020 U.S. Census will determine which states gain or lose electoral power for years to come, and President Donald Trump is leaning towards appointing a pro-gerrymandering professor with no government experience to help lead the effort.
Politico reported Tuesday that Trump may soon tap Thomas Brunell, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Dallas who has no background in statistics, for a powerful deputy position that doesn’t require congressional approval.
He authored a 2008 book titled Competitive Elections are Bad for America.
The position has historically been held by a career civil servant who has served many years in the Census Bureau.
Brunell has made his career advocating for gerrymandering—the practice of drawing electoral districts to make them easier for one political party to maintain a grip on power. In his book and in testimony before Congress on several occasions, Brunell has argued that maps that pack voters of one party into a single district, thereby diluting their overall power, should be considered “fair.” He has also worked on behalf of a number of Republican-controlled states that have been sued for racial and partisan gerrymandering, including Ohio and North Carolina.
Civil and voting rights advocates have been sounding the alarm since the beginning of this year about the fate of the 2020 Census, and the bureau currently has no director and faces a severe budget shortfall.
Now, there are fears that the appointment of an ideological conservative could lead to changes in the Census that could have repercussions for many years to come. For example, conservatives have long argued for adding a question about citizenship status to the Census, which may scare immigrants away from responding and being counted. As deputy director, Brunell would also have power over the ad budget used to encourage people to participate in the Census, and could potentially steer those resources in a way that favors conservative strongholds.
“Americans expect and deserve a fair and accurate Census that is free from the political partisanship Brunell would bring to the process,” Karen Hobert Flynn, the president of the government watchdog group Common Cause, said in a statement Tuesday.
The group is one of several opposing Brunell’s appointment.
Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.