The GOP's gerrymandering secrets have been exposed
Thomas Hofeller, the GOP redistricting mastermind, has had as substantial an impact on the last decade or so of American politics as people far more famous than he will ever be. Time and time again, he helped Republicans draw gerrymandered maps designed to allow them to hold on to as much power as possible at the state level. He took a no-holds-barred approach that meant gaming the system so that the GOP could maintain a stranglehold on power — no matter what actual voters might have wanted. He played a key role in the GOP’s failed attempt to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, which would likely have had the effect of undercounting Hispanic voters. Now, a year after his death, more of Thomas Hofeller’s secret files have entered the public record courtesy of an unexpected source: his estranged daughter, Stephanie Hofeller.
The Supreme Court ultimately ruled against the inclusion of the citizenship question on the census — only a few weeks prior to the ruling, leaked documents revealed that in 2015, Thomas Hofeller had conducted a study that explored the ways in which adding a citizenship question would be "advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites," granting Republicans more power to draw maps that would prevent Democrats from taking power in districts across the country. He’d helped pressure President Trump’s team to try including the question on the census in the first place; later, Hofeller wrote part of the Justice Department argument that claimed the question would be used in keeping with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which is the rationale the White House used at the Supreme Court. If Hofeller’s documents hadn’t been leaked, it’s quite possible that the citizenship question would have been on the census.
Stephanie Hofeller was the person who sent her father’s documents to the media before the Supreme Court decision last year. She disagreed with his political motivations and wanted the public to know exactly how influential he really was. And now she’s done it again.
In an interview with NPR, Stephanie Hofeller explained the wild story of how exactly how she came to possess her father’s secret files, and why she decided to release them to the public. "These are matters that concern the people and their franchise and their access to resources. This is, therefore, the property of the people," she said. "I won't be satisfied that we the people have found everything, until we the people have had a look at it in its entirety."
Hofeller described her father’s political goals as using gerrymandering to "create a system wherein the Republican nominee would win." In short, by her description, he wanted to end democracy. "State legislature, it doesn't matter who votes for what. Congress, it doesn't matter who votes for what. And president, it doesn't matter," she said.
Hofeller told NPR that she identifies as an “anarchist," adding, "I don't believe that we're going to really find solutions to the deeper problems of inequality in a system that demands a hierarchy, which is, by definition, unequal."
She wasn’t on speaking terms with her father at the time of his death, and she didn’t even know he’d passed until a month after it happened. When she showed up at his apartment, she found a plastic bag containing USB sticks and external hard drives full of information about her father’s work. She eventually connected with a group called Common Cause that was suing Republican redistricting officials in North Carolina over unfairly drawn maps. The documents Hofeller found showed how her father had helped draw maps in the state that would be used to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters, giving Republicans a massive edge in the number of congressmen elected in North Carolina even though the state is otherwise considered a swing state in presidential elections, with relatively similar numbers of people voting for Republicans and Democrats.
"State legislature, it doesn't matter who votes for what. Congress, it doesn't matter who votes for what. And president, it doesn't matter."
Thomas Hofeller wasn’t just planning for the GOP’s future — he was also writing analysis of its recent past. In one of the documents, he described the GOP redistricting efforts in Pennsylvania as “greedy,” per The Philadelphia Inquirer, noting that the Republican Party had been too ambitious in its attempts to grab votes away from Democrats by creating warped districts in the Philadelphia suburbs. The gerrymandered maps were eventually thrown out by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and Democrats have since gained several seats in the state. “GOP gerrymandering got greedy the last time and bad political climate caused it to unravel,” he wrote. “Democrats will be concentrating on trying to safe up their gains.”
Although Stephanie Hofeller posted all the files she was able to find, she said there may be more key information out there pertaining to her father’s work. She told NPR that before she was able to get ahold of her father’s files, his business partner Dale Oldham took two computers from her father’s apartment and has refused to release the contents, claiming they are the property of the company he ran with the elder Hofeller. "Dale got all the good stuff," Stephanie Hofeller told her attorneys at one point, according to NPR.
What exactly is on these files is not clear, but one thing is for sure — the Republican Party seems to be glad that Oldham got ahold of the computers. In November, per NPR’s report, the RNC paid him $420,000 for "legal and compliance services," as part of a total of more $650,000 it has paid his company this year.
Even as progressive groups have fought to expand voting rights and create fair maps around the country, Thomas Hofeller’s anti-democratic approach to redistricting continues to echo through the Republican Party. In October 2019, leaked audio from a Republican conference exposed how the party plans to treat 2020 redistricting like a “political blood sport.” Hofeller’s influence will likely live on long after he does — but it seems his daughter is doing her best to undercut the family business.