Political Interference in the 2020 Census

We've been investigating the rollout of the 2020 census, including the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question and the misleading mailers sent by the Republican National Committee.
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The Trump administration’s effort to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census — an addition that experts warned would likely depress the response rate and lead to an undercount in minority communities — involved officials from multiple agencies and multiple levels of government. Although the administration claimed asking respondents their citizenship status was necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act, document releases and public reporting revealed the political motivations behind the question, which was ultimately blocked by the Supreme Court in June 2019.

During congressional testimony in early 2018, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had claimed that the Justice Department had requested that his department, which includes the Census Bureau, include the citizenship question. But documents released later that summer in a multistate lawsuit against the administration revealed that Ross himself had actively pushed for it. Then in May 2019, the New York Times reported on a shocking trove of emails from the late Thomas Hofeller, a Republican strategist who had left behind evidence of the partisan motivations behind adding a citizenship question.

Litigation over the question also revealed that anti-immigration hardliner Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, had emailed Ross on July 14, 2017, with suggested wording for the question. We obtained the calendars of Israel Hernandez, then senior adviser and deputy chief of staff at Commerce, which showed on that same day the note “ALERT: Census Document Incoming.”

Additionally, the calendars of Lisa Casias, the Commerce Department’s deputy assistant secretary for administration, show that she and Census Bureau official Laura Furgione had a discussion about the census on May 25, 2017 — the day after Commerce official David Langdon sent an email to Census officials saying Ross was “puzzled why citizenship is not included in 2020.”

The Trump administration’s attempts to use the constitutionally authorized decennial census for political and partisan purposes were deeply troubling. American Oversight filed several Freedom of Information Act requests to shed more light on these efforts, and sued for records related to the Justice Department’s involvement and for the emails of former Justice Department official John Gore, who provided the official letter to the Census Bureau with the administration’s stated legal reason for adding the question. Gore is among the officials facing allegations of providing false or misleading statements during the course of litigation over the question.

American Oversight has also filed requests for records regarding misleading documents formatted to look like official census forms that were sent by the Republican National Committee to people across the United States. The documents included a lengthy questionnaire, and former President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign even sent text messages to some recipients urging them to fill out the form. 

Updates

News Roundup: Accountability, Not Complicity

January 29, 2021
Despite a range of executive actions meant to undo some of the worst damage, it’s clear that the previous president’s brand of destructive politics is an ongoing threat to the country.

Investigations Update: ‘Burrowing In,’ Medicaid Block Grants, and Pennsylvania County Election Certifications

December 1, 2020
See the latest in our investigations into troubling appointments, Oklahoma’s withdrawn block grant waiver application, and the administration’s attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census apportionment.

Investigations Update: ‘Sharpiegate,’ the Census, and Barr’s ‘Voter Fraud’ Investigations

November 17, 2020
See the latest in our investigations of the Justice Department’s voter fraud probes, the rush to finish the census, and criminal charges against protesters.

Investigations Update: Hatch Act Violations, Covid-19 Vaccine Contracts, and South Carolina Ballots

October 20, 2020
See the latest in our investigations into the misuse of government resources for political purposes, the administration’s pandemic response, and voting rights in the states.

Investigations Update: Vote-by-Mail Disinformation Campaigns, Drug Coupons for Seniors, and 2020 Census Interference

October 13, 2020
See the latest in our investigations into outside influence in the judicial nominations process, foreign disinformation campaigns, and Trump administration’s continued meddling with the 2020 census.

News Roundup: White Nationalism, Voter Suppression, and Trump’s Taxes

October 1, 2020
We’ve known about the administration’s cozy relationship with white nationalists, and that fear-mongering over “voter fraud” was a deterrent to voting. But this week’s news still drove those points home.

News Roundup: Behind the Trump Administration’s Supreme Court Nominations

September 25, 2020
It’s hard to overstate just how grave the current political situation is.

News Roundup: The Levers of Power

August 6, 2020
Americans may have long taken for granted the reliability of the national mail service and the accuracy of the decennial census. But it seems the Trump administration is doing its best to make sure we won’t do so again.

Investigations Update: DHS Intelligence Efforts in Portland, the Politicization of Key Government Agency, and the Pandemic’s Impact on Census

August 4, 2020
Our latest investigations into the federal response to nationwide protests, political interference in the 2020 census, and other issues.

American Oversight Sues for Records of Pandemic’s Impact on the Census

July 31, 2020
The lawsuit came amid new reports that the Census Bureau plans to end its door-knocking outreach earlier than planned, potentially decreasing the accuracy and benefiting Trump’s political party.

Investigations Update: ‘Burrowing In,’ Voter Fraud Task Forces, and Federal Law Enforcement

July 28, 2020
Our latest investigations into political appointees moving to permanent positions, the designation of "antifa" as a terrorist group, and state-level voter fraud task forces.

News Roundup: Trump and Barr Unleash Attack on Protesters — and the Constitution

June 5, 2020
The irony of protests against police brutality being met with violent escalation by law enforcement is perhaps matched only by the authoritarianism of the president and attorney general. 

News Roundup: Miracle Drugs and Trump’s Alternate Reality

April 24, 2020
Trump has seemingly failed to learn that no amount of political spin can minimize his administration’s mismanaged pandemic response.

News Roundup: Corruption and Coronavirus

April 10, 2020
Trump is apparently counting on the public to be too distracted by the coronavirus to pay much attention to his continuing dictator-like purges of government officials and his brazen rejection of oversight. 

News Roundup: Whose Stockpile, and Which States?

April 3, 2020
It shouldn’t be surprising that the president, who downplayed the crisis until just a few weeks ago, is once again avoiding taking responsibility.

News Roundup: Citizenship, the Census and the Constitution

February 15, 2019
The Supreme Court will consider the inclusion of a citizenship question on the census, Trump declares a national emergency and the Senate confirms William Barr.

Lawsuit Seeks Emails of DOJ Official Involved in Controversial Civil Rights Decisions

January 31, 2019
American Oversight filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice to find out whether outside groups or individuals have influenced the agency’s shifting priorities in the enforcement of civil rights protections.

LDF and American Oversight File Lawsuit for DOJ Records of Census Citizenship Question

October 15, 2018
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) have sued the Department of Justice (DOJ) to compel the release of records detailing the department's role in the decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census. The lawsuit filed Friday by LDF, along with non-partisan ethics watchdog American Oversight, asks the court to order DOJ to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by LDF seeking a range of documents about the citizenship question.
Show all updates

Related Documents

February 12, 2021

Census Bureau Records in Response to Request for Emails with Thomas Hofeller and Mark Neuman

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
Agency Record
December 16, 2020

Commerce Inspector General Records Regarding Complaints Made by Census Enumerators

Commerce Office of the Inspector General, Department of Commerce
Agency Record
November 19, 2020

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Communications About Counting Immigrants in Census

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
November 19, 2020

FOIA to Census Bureau Seeking Communications About Counting Immigrants in Census

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
November 19, 2020

FOIA to Census Bureau Seeking Communications Around Counting Immigrants in the Census

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
November 18, 2020

FOIA to Census Bureau Seeking Directives Sent to Regional Field Offices

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
November 12, 2020

FOIA to Commerce Inspector General for Records Reflecting Complaints Made by Census Enumerators

Commerce Office of the Inspector General, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 30, 2020

FOIA to Census Bureau for External Emails of Recent Political Appointees

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 23, 2020

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Communications of Key Officials Under Secretary Ross

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 23, 2020

FOIA to Census Bureau Seeking Communications of Key Census Bureau Officials

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 15, 2020

Records Request to Commerce and Census Bureau Seeking Directives Regarding Counting People Experiencing Homelessness

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 15, 2020

Records Request to Commerce Seeking Assessments Regarding Impact of Asking People Experiencing Homelessness About Citizenship Status

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 15, 2020

Records Request to Commerce and Census Bureau Seeking Directives Regarding the Counting of Residents in Domestic Violence Shelters

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 9, 2020

FOIA to Commerce for Directives Related to White House Memo Excluding Undocumented Immigrants from Census Count

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 9, 2020

FOIA to Commerce for White House Communications Around Counting Immigrants in Census

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 9, 2020

FOIA to the Census Bureau for White House Communications About Counting Immigrants in Census

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 9, 2020

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Communications About Counting Immigrants in Census

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 9, 2020

FOIA to Census Bureau Seeking Communications Around Counting Immigrants in Census

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 7, 2020

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Records Regarding Maximum Attempts for Census Count

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 7, 2020

FOIA to Census Bureau Seeking Directives and Communications Regarding Maximum Attempts for Census Count

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 7, 2020

FOIA to Census Bureau for Communications with the White House

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 7, 2020

FOIA to Commerce for Analyses of Early Census Cutoff Date

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
October 7, 2020

FOIA to Census Bureau for Analyses of Early Cutoff Date

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
September 29, 2020

No Records Response from Census Bureau Regarding Communications with External Individuals

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
Agency Reply
August 11, 2020

FOIA to Census Bureau Seeking Calendars of Political Appointees

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
July 31, 2020

Complaint: American Oversight v. Census Bureau and Commerce – 2020 Census Implementation

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
Litigation
July 31, 2020

FOIA to the Census Bureau Seeking Emails with the White House Regarding Covid-19

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
July 31, 2020

FOIA to the Census Bureau Seeking Directives and Guidance Relating to Covid-19

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
July 31, 2020

FOIA to the Census Bureau Seeking External Email Communications Regarding Covid-19

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
July 22, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Legal Analysis Regarding the President’s Memorandum Directing that Undocumented Immigrants Not Be Counted in the Census

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
July 22, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Records Regarding the President’s Memorandum Directing that Undocumented Immigrants Not Be Counted in the Census

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
June 29, 2020

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Agency Reply
June 4, 2020

Opinion and Order: NAACP v. DOJ – Census Citizenship Question

Department of Justice
Litigation
May 29, 2020

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Secretary Ross’s Communications with Senator McConnell

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
May 29, 2020

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Communications with External Individuals and Entities

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FOIA Request
May 29, 2020

FOIA to the Census Bureau Seeking Sent Communications Regarding Coronavirus

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FOIA Request
May 5, 2020

FOIA to State Seeking Records Related to Any Office Renovations by Ambassador Lana Marks

Department of State
FOIA Request
April 6, 2020

FOIA to the Census Bureau Seeking Communications with the White House Related to Coronavirus

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
April 6, 2020

FOIA to the Census Bureau Seeking Directives Related to Coronavirus

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FOIA Request
April 6, 2020

FOIA to the Census Bureau Seeking Communications with External Individuals

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
April 6, 2020

FOIA to the Census Bureau Seeking Communications with External Organizations

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
April 1, 2020

USDA Rural Development Calendars for Senior Officials

Department of Agriculture
Agency Record
March 16, 2020

FOIA to Census Bureau Seeking Communications with the RNC

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
March 16, 2020

FOIA to Census Bureau Seeking Communications with the Trump Reelection Campaign

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
March 16, 2020

FOIA to Census Bureau Seeking Communications with the White House

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
November 8, 2019

FOIA to Census Bureau for Emails Between Agency Officials and Stephen Miller

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
September 23, 2019

FOIA to to the Census Bureau Seeking Information Regarding Political Appointees

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
August 2, 2019

No Records Response from DOJ Regarding Communications with Thomas Hofeller and Mark Neuman

Department of Justice
Agency Reply
July 9, 2019

FOIA to Census Bureau Seeking Communications with Thomas Hofeller and Mark Neuman

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
July 9, 2019

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Communications with Thomas Hofeller and Mark Neuman

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
July 9, 2019

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Communications with Thomas Hofeller and Mark Neuman

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
April 22, 2019

FOIA to Census Seeking Political Appointee Resumes and Calendars

Commerce - Census Bureau, Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
April 5, 2019

Commerce Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration Lisa Casias’s Calendar

Department of Commerce
Agency Record
March 15, 2019

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Communications of Kevin Quinley

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
February 14, 2019

Commerce Department Calendars for Israel Hernandez

Department of Commerce
Agency Record
October 12, 2018

Complaint: NAACP LDF v DOJ – Census Citizenship Question

Department of Justice
Litigation
October 4, 2018

FOIA to the U.S. Census Bureau Seeking Communications with Outside Entities

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
May 17, 2018

Census Bureau Records Regarding IT Readiness for 2020 Census

Department of Commerce
Agency Record
March 14, 2018

FOIA to Commerce Regarding 2020 Census

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request