SAN ANTONIO (CN) – A federal judge on Wednesday blocked Texas officials from purging nearly 100,000 names from the voter rolls as part of a Republican-driven citizenship review plan unless they have been conclusively found to be ineligible to vote.
“The evidence has shown in a hearing before this court that there is no widespread voter fraud,” U.S. District Judge Fred Biery wrote in a four-page order declining to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC.
The temporary restraining order comes a month after Acting Texas Secretary of State David Whitley said his office had flagged between 95,000 and 98,000 potential non-citizen voters during a year-long investigation into Texas Department of Public Safety records and voter rolls.
The advisory to county registrars spurred immediate condemnation and three separate legal challenges from civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and LULAC. LULAC’s lawsuit claimed Latino voters were being targeted for voter suppression, and sought to block the state from continuing the citizen review program.
While the secretary of state’s office made a good faith effort to proactively locate ineligible voters, Judge Biery said in his order, the results were nonetheless flawed.
“Perfectly legal naturalized Americans were burdened with what the court finds to be ham-handed and threatening correspondence from the state which did not politely ask for information but rather exemplifies the power of government to strike fear and anxiety and to intimidate the least powerful among us,” the judge wrote.
The order allows local officials throughout Texas’ 254 counties to continue to look into possible non-citizen voters but prohibits them from communicating directly with any individual on the state’s voter purge list.
LULAC’s in-house attorney Luis Vera said Wednesday that letters were sent to thousands of people in an attempt to suppress voting through intimidation, including threats they had committed a felony when they voted.
“The court agreed with LULAC that a temporary restraining order is the correct and lawful thing to do and urged the state of Texas to work to settle the matter to what has been a non-existent problem,” Vera said in a statement.
Sam Taylor, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying Whitley “met personally with representatives of the plaintiffs today, solicited their feedback, and made clear that every option is on the table.”
“The Texas secretary of state’s office appreciates Judge Biery’s acknowledgment that the list maintenance process was performed in good faith to carry out statutory list maintenance duties. At this time, we are preparing a communication to Texas counties,” Taylor said.
Last week, all 12 Democrats in the Texas Senate announced their intention to oppose the confirmation of Whitley, serving as the state’s election chief on an interim basis, following the release of the widely discredited list. Officials in several of Texas’ larger counties have since reported substantial errors in the number of names Whitley’s office forwarded to them.
Whitley’s Jan. 28 advisory also prompted President Donald Trump to incorrectly tweet that “58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote” in the state.