House Panel Probing Review of Texas Voter Rolls

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Congressional Democrats said Thursday they are investigating the Texas interim election chief’s bungled announcement of 95,000 registered voters possibly not being citizens that spurred lawsuits, accusations of voter suppression and an apology.

Acting Secretary of State David Whitley arrives for his confirmation hearing in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, D-Md., wrote a letter to acting Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, a Republican, saying the House Oversight Committee that he chairs is “disturbed by reports that your office has taken steps to remove thousands of eligible American voters” from voter rolls and referred them to Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton for criminal prosecution.

“Since you sent this advisory, however, reports have indicated that your office erroneously flagged tens of thousands of voters, including at least 18,000 voters in Harris County, more than 1,700 voters in Dallas County, all the voters flagged in McLennan County, and even a staff member for the El Paso County election administrator,” the seven-page letter states.

In making the announcement in January, Whitley stated approximately 58,000 of those flagged have since voted in at least one Texas election. He issued the advisory to county voter registrars to confirm each person’s citizenship status, stating the list resulted from a year-long comparison of Texas Department of Safety records and voter rolls.

Whitley did not go as far as to say all 58,000 definitely voted illegally, nor did he say when or how the results of county investigations would be made public. It is unknown how many of the flagged voters have since become naturalized citizens.

President Donald Trump quickly reacted to the announcement by incorrectly tweeting within days that “58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote” in the state. Trump has insisted without evidence that 3 million people voted illegally in the 2016 general election that cost him the popular vote.

The League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas have filed separate lawsuits in Texas federal courts, claiming the list suppresses voters and violates their civil rights.

Cummings directed Whitley to product documents received from DPS “that served as the basis for the advisory,” communications with Paxton’s office and communications with Governor Greg Abbott and Trump, among others.

Whitley’s days in office appear to be numbered as the Texas Senate has so far failed to confirm his appointment by Abbott to the job four months ago. All 12 Democrats in the Texas Senate have publicly stated their opposition to his appointment. 

He needs a majority of votes in the 31-member chamber keep the job, meaning the 19-member Republican majority requires at least two Democratic votes.

During his Feb. 7 confirmation hearing, Whitley refused to apologize for his office’s errors with the list and largely deflected questions. He apologized for the errors one week later in a letter to state lawmakers.

“I recognize this caused some confusion about our intentions, which were at all times aimed at maintaining the accuracy and integrity of the voter rolls,” Whitely wrote. “To the extent my actions missed that mark, I apologize.”

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