A new report shows Iowa, South Dakota, and South Carolina recently joined Nebraska in offering up drivers’ license records to the federal government in order to help the Trump administration get to its goal of tracking the citizenship status of every adult in the United States and redistricting states based solely on eligible voting-age population.
To help figure out the U.S. citizenship status of every adult living in the country, the Trump administration has made agreements to accumulate driver’s license and state identification card information from states including Iowa, Nebraska, South Carolina and South Dakota, NPR has learned.
In the past year since the administration failed in its attempt to add the now-blocked citizenship question to 2020 census forms, the Census Bureau has been gathering state and federal records to produce anonymized citizenship data under directives from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the bureau, and an executive order Trump issued in July 2019.
In November, Nebraska became the first state to voluntarily agree to transfer data from its state driver’s license and state ID records to the U.S. Census Bureau, as NPR reported last year.
While the federal government is claiming this move is so that it can track undocumented people in the country, Nebraska, South Carolina, Iowa and South Dakota specifically do not issue drivers’ licenses to individuals who can not prove they are in the country legally.
This also seems to be part of a broader redistricting plan, though it’s not clear how much that would really help Republicans. Three of the states cooperating are already solidly Republican, with all of Nebraska’s three congress members and two senators in the Republican party as well as South Dakota’s one congress representative and two senators. South Carolina is also fairly conservative, with two Republican senators and only two Democrats out of its seven congressional representatives. Iowa is thought to be more of a swing state with a Democrat-majority congressional leadership, though both of its senators are Republicans.
While these records won’t help much with tracking undocumented human beings, there are also some problems with using this information to redraw districts, from NPR:
Using that kind of information to exclude U.S. citizens under 18 and noncitizens — both those lawfully and unlawfully in the country — when redrawing districts would be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” a GOP redistricting strategist concluded.
It is an open question whether redrawing voting maps based on the number of citizens old enough to vote instead of all residents, including children, is legal. That issue may be tested in the courts as early as next year, when the Census Bureau plans to release block-level citizenship data to the states by July 31, 2021, James Whitehorne, the head of the Census Bureau’s redistricting and voting rights data office, confirmed in April.
Many voting rights advocates, however, are skeptical about the accuracy of data that would be generated from historical records that often contain out-of-date information, especially about whether a person is currently a U.S. citizenIn August of last year, the U.S. Census Bureau requested five years’ worth of driver’s license data from DMVs and other similar state offices with a promise that such data would be confidential. Last October 13 states, both on the red and blue side of the aisle, refused due to privacy concerns or state law prohibiting the release of such information according to the Associated Press
Also unclear is how out-of-date information would be useful to the administration’s ends, or how it plans to track those without drivers’ licenses, though state-issued IDs are also part of some of the information-sharing agreements. When the U.S. Census Bureau first requested the information in October of last year at least 13 states straight up refused, citing privacy concerns and state law, according to the Associated Press. The battleground states of New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, in particular, rejected the request on legal grounds.