Likely Census Bureau pick questioned over writings

The likely pick to fill the role of deputy director at the Census Bureau has no government experience and authored a book that argues that competition in district races is bad for the country, Politico has reported.

If appointed, Thomas Brunell, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, would become the highest-ranking permanent official at the Census Bureau. The role of director is currently vacant.

Brunell was previously being considered for the Census Bureau’s director role, a position that requires Senate confirmation, but his name was ultimately dropped from consideration, Politico reported Tuesday. The deputy director role does not require confirmation.

The Census Bureau is responsible for collecting a nationwide population count that states use to determine the proper distribution of electoral votes and congressional seats — a role that critics question whether Brunell’s background makes him unable to do well.

Brunell published a book in 2008 titled “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America.”

In the book, he challenges the notion that competitive districts, or districts that are more evenly split between Democratic and Republican voters, are good for voter representation.

In one passage from the book he writes, “A packed partisan plan for redistricting improves how well citizens are presented in Congress or in their state legislatures, which, in turn, improves their attitudes toward these governments.”

According to his published resume, Brunell appears to have little experience in the areas that might be considered key for a Census Bureau job: statistics, organization management and government. Instead the majority of his experience is as a professor of political science.

The White House referred a request for comment to the Commerce Department. The Commerce Department, Brunell and the Census Bureau did not return multiple requests from CNN for comment.

Brunell’s potential appointment to the agency role is raising red flags for some already wary of how the Trump administration may approach census data collection for 2020.

One particular fear of voting rights advocates is that the administration would over- or under-count some Americans. In October the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration saying that the Commerce Department is unlawfully withholding information about how the bureau plans to oversee the census in 2020.

“The Census Bureau routinely undercounts communities of color, young children, home renters, low-income persons and rural residents,” said Bradford Berry, general counsel for the NAACP, told The Washington Post at the time. “All signs indicate that the 2020 census will be a particularly egregious failure on this front.”

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, expressed fears about Brunell’s lack of relevant experience.

“A fair and accurate census is among the most important civil rights issues of our day. It is also one of the largest, most complicated, and technical activities our government administers. As such, it requires leaders who have a demonstrated ability to manage such an undertaking and expertise in the collection, analysis, and use of statistical data,” she said in a statement Wednesday.