Trump Attempts to Omit Immigrants in Census Count for Apportionment of Congressional Seats

Interview with Sylvia Albert, director of the voting and elections program with Common Cause, conducted by Scott Harris

Down in the election polls across the country, and even in many red states, Donald Trump recently suggested that the 2020 election be postponed, an action constitutionally not within his power. In another act of seeming desperation and malice toward immigrants Trump issued an executive order on July 21 mandating the exclusion of undocumented immigrants from calculations used in the apportionment of seats in Congress, which violates both the U.S. Constitution and federal statutes.

The president’s ultimate goal is to eliminate non-voters from the population counts used every 10 years to draw new state and federal legislative district maps. According to research, political maps based on the population of citizens alone would produce an electorate that would be far less diverse than the nation as a whole, and in the words of the now-deceased GOP strategist Thomas Hofeller, “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic Whites.”

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Sylvia Albert, director of the Voting & Elections program with Common Cause, who addresses Trump’s suggested postponement of the 2020 election and talks about the lawsuit filed by Common Cause seeking to stop the president’s executive order, arguing that the intent of Trump’s action is the culmination of a years-long effort to transfer political power en masse from voters of color to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.

SYLVIA ALBERT: First of all, the president does not have the power to change the date of an election. The Constitution determines that Congress sets the date of an election and even in an emergency, the president hasn’t been allocated those powers. Congress set the election date as the first Tuesday in November and it would need a congressional act to change that — not something that he has the power to do. With regard to vote by mail, it is a tried and true method of voting. We have been voting by mail for over 150 years. It’s the way that soldiers during the Civil War voted. And there are multiple states that have used all mail-in ballots for the last 20 years and have not had a history of problems. There’s not a history of problems. You are more likely to be struck by lightning than encounter a problem with mail-in ballots. So, you know, it’s unfortunate that the president has decided to use his voice to attempt to suppress the votes of people who he does not think are going to vote for him. And that really seems to be, in my view, what his goal is.

SCOTT HARRIS: Tied in with Donald Trump’s floating the idea of delaying the elections and the charge that mail-in balloting will result in fraud and a rigged election. So, tell us a bit about the concerns regarding intimidation at the ballot box.

SYLVIA ALBERT: We have heard that a group is attempting to recruit 50,000 — the term they used were ex-Navy SEAL or other military folk — to intimidate voters. We will be watching, we do not want to engage with dangerous people. And you know, luckily the law is on our side. So we will be watching and the Voting Rights Act does not allow for that kind of behavior. So we will go to court if needed.

SCOTT HARRIS: Silvia, I wanted to make sure we got in brief discussion of Common Cause’s lawsuit challenging Donald Trump’s directive to omit undocumented immigrants in the Census calculations that are going on right now. There’s also more recently, news that the Census workers will stop work early, which means that the pandemic has of course hobbled the effort to count everyone in the country. But curtailing the work of Census takers at this point will only make that problem worse on top of what we’re talking about here with Trump trying to omit undocumented immigrants in the Census count, which relates to elections fairly directly, because not only do the Census numbers determine a federal allocation of funds for each city or county or state, but it also determines political representation in terms of how many representatives will be elected in each state.

SYLVIA ALBERT: Right. So, you know, the president’s memo is clearly unconstitutional. Again, the Constitution states that the apportionment or the counting of people is “whole person.” It does not provide for any difference between people who are citizens and non-citizens. And it seems clear that this and the directive from the Census to stop working a month in advance is really a goal to ensure that voters of color do not have political power and are unable to have political gain. And, you know, obviously this is unconscionable, not only because it affects the actual count of votes of representatives, but really this comes down to, you know, the resources needed for schools, for hospitals, for fire departments. And it’s really, really sad, honestly, that the American people have just been kind of turned into a political punching bag. You know, we strongly urge Congress to include more money for the Cense in any COVID-related bills that are coming — obviously, the Census was drastically affected by COVID —and to extend the timing for continued count. The counts of people that are happening right now are those people that are the hardest to count. And for that reason, we need to do our very best to count them, to make sure that they are able to be represented.

Learn more about the Common Cause lawsuit seeking to stop Trump’s effort to disempower communities of color for partisan political advantage at CommonCause.org

Correction to transcript: A previous version of this transcript had omitted the word “not” in a phrase about the constitutionality of a president delaying an election. The correct version should be: “Donald Trump recently suggested that the 2020 election be postponed, an action constitutionally not within his power.” 

 

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