In 2018, prominent Republican political strategist Thomas Hofeller passed away, leaving behind over 70,000 secret files and emails.
When their existence became known, Hofeller’s former consulting firm, Geographic Strategies, waged a legal fight to keep the files hidden from public eye. However, on January 5, 2020, Hofeller’s daughter, Stephanie, released many of them online.
The files in question are considered central to the legality of GOP political maps in North Carolina. The voting district maps in North Carolina, which determine where individual votes are counted within the state, have been heavily altered by gerrymandering.
It is also believed that Hofeller was a key consultant for a citizenship question that the Trump administration unsuccessfully sought to include on this year’s national census.
Who is Thomas Hofeller?
Prior to his death, Hofeller was largely an unseen figure in the GOP.
As the New Yorker stated in their profile of him, Hofeller valued secrecy and advocated it to others in his party. The same profile labeled him as the “master of the modern gerrymander”.
Hofeller gave speeches about the importance of being guarded in digital correspondence, going so far as to call emails “the tool of the devil.”
Hofeller is known to have played a part in helping to draw up voting redistricting maps in North Carolina and likely across the nation. This practice is known as gerrymandering.
It has been suggested that Hofeller used data based on the racial makeup of districts to redraw maps to make them more favorable to the GOP.
What is gerrymandering?
The term gerrymandering goes back to 1812. The Boston Gazette coined it to refer to the way the then governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry, arranged the districts of the state to keep his party in power (the resulting shape of the map resembled a salamander).
In modern usage, gerrymandering refers to any effort to manipulate the map of a district to help one political party and hurt another.
A party that is in power can redraw district lines to help create a larger bloc of loyal voters while spreading out the voters of opposition parties. As a result, even if the party in power receives fewer votes in an election, it can win greater representative power in the local body of government.
For instance, according to the New York Times, Hofeller’s efforts in North Carolina reshaped a district that had been 7-6 in favor of Democrats to favor Republicans 10-3.
Political and racial gerrymandering
In June 2019, the US Supreme Court refused to take up two cases involving partisan gerrymandering. As a result, it effectively determined that the legality of gerrymandering for political purposes was up to state and federal legislatures.
While political gerrymandering is effectively legal under the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, a previous case from 1993 determined that gerrymandering based on race was illegal.
That case, Shaw v. Reno, which also came out of North Carolina, led to the majority opinion that any map which is “unexplainable on grounds other than race” was unconstitutional.
Why did Stephanie Hofeller release her father’s files?
Stephanie Hofeller, who identifies herself as an “estranged daughter” on her Twitter profile, openly describes herself as an anarchist. She claims to have released the files out of a personal belief that they are “the property of the people.” She has also said that she wanted an accurate historical record of her father, with whom she did not agree politically.
Prior to releasing the files on thehofellerfiles.com, Stephanie shared many of them with Common Cause, a non-profit organization that seeks to ensure government accountability. Common Cause used the files to challenge North Carolina’s state legislative map. As a result, in Common Law v. Lewis, North Carolina’s Supreme Court ruled the GOP’s map violated the state’s constitution.
The racial problem with the Hofeller files
Within Hofeller’s files is substantial evidence that he collected racial data throughout North Carolina and used it to draw up the district maps.
Nationally, less than 10% of African Americans have voted Republican in recent decades, regardless of the candidate. Therefore, splitting up predominantly black districts into smaller pockets within largely white districts would proportionally limit the black and Democratic vote.
How did Hofeller affect the census?
Hofeller’s files and emails have also played an important role in efforts by the Trump administration to add a question to the census. The administration had sought to include the question “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” on the 2020 census.
Advocates for the question say it’s necessary to accurately assess the number of citizens in the country. Those opposed to the question’s inclusion say the question is an attempt to discourage immigrants from participating in the census.
The census is used to determine how congressional seats and funding are allocated.
Hofeller’s files have been cited as evidence that there was a racial motive in the inclusion of the question. In one unpublished study, Hofeller said such a question “would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.” Ultimately, the Supreme Court struck down the question and the administration said it would abandon attempts to include it in the census.
A full census of the country is required every ten years by the US Constitution and is intended to be non-partisan.