At first glance, the Trump administration’s decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 U.S. Census looks like just another chapter in its anti-immigration policy. But that’s only a secondary consideration.
The primary one is that by asking the question, the Census Bureau is bound to scare some immigrants from responding. And that in turn will have a significant political impact on a host of issues – including LGBT rights.
The census isn’t just an exercise in information gathering. The results are used to draw Congressional districts. The citizenship question is likely to depress the results in urban areas, where Democrats (and the LGBT population) are disproportionately located.
The bottom line is that these districts would have their impact diluted. Because the population will look smaller, the districts will be made larger, to accommodate the census undercount. That means areas more likely to support LGBT rights are going to be underrepresented when congressional maps are drawn.
By contrast, that means smaller, rural areas with few immigrants will have disproportionate power. To put it in real numbers: for example, decidedly liberal California may end up short one Congressional seat because of an undercount.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the census, dismissed such concerns. “I find that the need for accurate citizenship data and the limited burden that the reinstatement of the citizenship question would impose outweigh fears about a potentially lower response rate,” Ross wrote in a memo.
But the move is of a piece with other Republican efforts to politicize the census and stack the voting deck. Ross’s sudden interest in citizenship contrasts sharply with the Census Bureau’s disinterest in gay households.
The decision also shows how far Republicans are willing to go to depress turnout by voters who favor Democrats. The most recent case in point is in Pennsylvania, where the state Supreme Court redrew Congressional districts to more fairly reflect voter distribution. Previously, Republicans held 13 outof 18 Congressional seats in a state that is evenly split among Repulicans and Democrats.
That move probably means fewer anti-gay Republicans in Congress. The census decision means just the opposite.
Once again, the GOP is showing that rather that openly compete for voters’ hearts and minds, they’d rather rewrite the rules to favor themselves.