As voters head for the polls or ballot drop-off boxes in the June 7 California primary election, those with even moderate memories may recall the moves by ex-President Donald Trump that are shaping the vote.
It’s not merely that Californians will be voting in one less Congressional primary than previously, but that fewer will likely vote this year here and in other states than in the last several similar elections.
That was Trump’s wish, enabled with enthusiasm by his secretary of Commerce, billionaire businessman Wilbur Ross, who did all he could while supervising the 2020 census to reduce the vote and make it whiter.
That’s what Trump has actually meant all along by his vaunted slogan “Make America Great Again.”
For one thing, demographic scholars are just now arriving at the conclusion that the 2020 census, conducted under the Trump aegis, was the least accurate in many decades.
The aim all along was to undercount minorities, especially Latinos and Blacks, in order to give more clout to white voters who are more likely to vote for Republicans like Trump and Ross.
It was also meant to allocate fewer government dollars than before to states where those minorities tend to concentrate, thus causing their populations to decline for years to come.
The strategy appears largely to have succeeded, despite the fact that courts threw out its most egregious tactic — a question on citizenship status designed to intimidate immigrants who are legally eligible to vote.
For, as Robert Shapiro, senior fellow at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., concluded in a recent report, “Large-scale errors in the Census cost New York, Texas, Florida, Arizona, California and New Jersey one (congressional) seat each, and resulted in an extra representative for Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Montana, Wisconsin and Indiana.”
Population increases in the states that lost seats, all places that attract huge numbers of new immigrants, were downplayed by a variety of methods, increasing emphasis on numerical gains in whiter states.
This was accomplished, according to Shapiro and other scholars, by hobbling the census — with help from COVID-19. The pandemic provided cover for the Trump-Ross tactic of underfunding the census in states where they wanted counts lowered, allowing them to send out fewer census takers for shorter periods than usual.
This was a ploy to depress minority participation, and it worked, Shapiro and others concluded.
The methods included persistent funding shortfalls in areas where large numbers did not fill out and return census forms on their own, but would have been counted if census takers called on them.
Underfunding led to understaffing and a truncated schedule at least a month shorter than usual, with the pandemic used as cover.
As a result, California’s official population increase between 2010 and 2020 was understated by enough to cost the state one seat in Congress and one Electoral College vote in each of the next two presidential elections.
The Georgetown study found that at the same time Blacks and Hispanics were undercounted, whites and Asian-Americans were often double-counted as census takers were more comfortable in more affluent areas, visiting a higher than usual percentage of homes where occupants had already sent in their forms.
Compared with 2010, the Georgetown team wrote, undercounts of Blacks jumped from 2.03% to 3.3% and for Hispanics from 1.54% to 4.99 %. In short, about 1 in 20 Latinos was not counted, more than three times the 2020 margin of error.
This all skews congressional representation now and for the next 10 years to come, before a new census sets new district lines for the 2030s.
At the same time, overcounts of non-Hispanic whites and Asians went up.
The political effects of all this are not completely one-sided, as some Republican-leaning states like Texas and Florida also saw their counts distorted.
But uncomfortable as the reality may be for many Californians, living in a state where Trump’s approval ratings have rarely topped 40%, they are voting in a system largely shaped by him and his billionaire appointee, Ross.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].