According to multiple reports, Brunell will be appointed deputy director of the US Census Bureau and de facto leader of the 2020 census, which is constitutionally mandated to count every person in America. The census determines the level of representation for state and federal districts, and how $600 billion in federal funding is allocated to states and localities. (In addition to Brunell, the Trump administration has hired Kevin Quinley, a former research director for Kellyanne Conway’s polling firm whose clients included Breitbart News, as a special adviser to the Census Bureau.)
The deputy director of the Census Bureau has historically been a nonpartisan career civil servant. Brunell, a registered Republican, has no prior government experience and a deeply partisan background. He has testified or produced expert reports for Republicans in more than a dozen redistricting cases and has defended new voting restrictions passed by Republicans. His 2008 book, Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America, argued that extreme partisan gerrymandering should be the norm because, he claimed, ultra-safe blue or red districts offered better representation for voters than competitive ones.
“It’s breathtaking to think they’re going to make that person responsible for the census,” says former Attorney General Eric Holder.
The census, conducted every 10 years, forms the basis for redistricting, and its detailed demographic data is used to implement the Voting Rights Act and other civil rights laws. Voting rights lawyers and longtime observers of the census worry that instead of committing to accurately count every American, Brunell and the Trump administration will use the 2020 census to concentrate power, representation, and economic resources in Republican hands. “He would be a terrible, terrible person to be running the census,” says Allison Riggs, an attorney for the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which challenged the North Carolina maps in court. “In part because he has absolutely no qualifications to do so, but also because he’s a rank-and-file ideologue.” (Brunell did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)