Democratic districts have fewer U.S. citizens in them
A Manhattan federal judge has given modest hope to the 18 Democratic state attorneys general, including New York’s, suing to block the Census Bureau from inquiring about citizenship status in its 2020 survey.
Judge Jesse Furman let the case go forward, ruling that there’s enough evidence that the Trump administration might be including the question for suspect reasons: to discourage non-citizens from responding, thus suppressing the Census count in immigrant-heavy Democratic districts and reducing their representation.
It’s true that if the feds do include the question, non-citizens, even if they are legal, may fear responding, and that this could distort the crucial once-a-decade count.
Far more districts represented by Democrats than Republicans have significant percentages of immigrants, documented and undocumented alike.
But Democrats should nonetheless be embarrassed to be pursuing such a line of reasoning. They’re defending a system that disproportionately leads to their representing residents who have not voted for those who are nominally representing them.
Keep in mind that Congressional districts must all include similar population totals. But the Constitution requires a resident count of “all free people” — including those who are not citizens — and population is the basis of House representation.
If the structure of the Senate and the Electoral College favor Republicans, Census enumeration rules for Congress favor Democrats. Far more districts represented by Democrats than Republicans have significant percentages of immigrants, documented and undocumented alike.
An Axios analysis finds, for instance, that 10 Democratic districts include a foreign-born population of higher than 40%, compared with just two Republican districts. Only 11 Republican seats have at least 20% foreign-born residents, compared with more than 50 Democratic seats.
In Ohio’s fourth congressional district, represented by House Speaker hopeful Jim Jordan, just 2% of residents are foreign-born. In New York’s 14th district, where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gained national celebrity for her upset primary victory, some 50% of residents are foreign-born.
It’s almost certainly the case that an average Democratic district includes fewer citizens among its roughly 735,000 residents than an average Republican district. Census data indicates that as of 2010, just 44% of the foreign-born are naturalized citizens — down from 64% in 1970.
This has implications not just for Democrats but for democracy.
For instance, in Montana — which, in 2016, had just one Congressional district for the entire state — just 2% of residents were foreign-born. Then-Rep. Ryan Zinke (now Secretary of the Interior) needed 285,358 votes (of 491,000) to win 56% of the vote. That same year, outspoken California Congresswoman Maxine Waters needed just 167,017 votes (of 219,000 total) to garner a much higher percentage of a much smaller total vote. In her district, 32% of the population is foreign-born — and 46% of residents are even as she, an African-American, is perennially reelected.
Democrats concerned about disenfranchisement would be advised to try another tack.
On rare occasions, Republicans can benefit from the same situation. Rep. David Valadao from a district in California’s San Joaquin Valley won his seat with just 75,000 votes—of a total of just 132,000 cast.
I am not suggesting that non-citizens are undeserving of a voice or of government services, simply that we ought to be aware of how these numbers skew the manner in which Congressional districts are drawn.
Democrats concerned about disenfranchisement would be advised to try another tack. They should mount the equivalent of the post-Voting Rights Act push to register blacks in the South and urge as many legal residents as possible to become naturalized citizens. After all, a system in which non-citizens are counted for the purposes of drawing congressional districts but have no voice in choosing or influencing their member of Congress might be called representation — without representation.
It’s akin to the situation of Southern blacks in the Jim Crow South: counted by the Census but not permitted to vote.
Howard Husock is Vice President for research and publications at the Manhattan Institute.