AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Texas officials said late Friday they identified 95,000 registered voters who were not U.S. citizens when they obtained state driver’s licenses or identification cards and are asking counties to confirm their current citizenship status and eligibility to vote, resulting in critics accusing the state of fear-mongering and voter suppression.
Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, a Republican, issued an advisory to county voter registrars stating his office flagged the individuals during a year-long investigation into Texas Department of Public Safety records and voter rolls. He said approximately 58,000 of those flagged have since voted in one or more Texas elections.
Whitley did not go as far as to say all 58,000 definitively voted illegally, nor did he say when or how the results of the county investigations will be made public. It is currently unknown how many of the flagged voters have since become naturalized citizens.
That did not stop President Donald Trump from incorrectly tweeting Sunday morning 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.
“All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampart,” he tweeted. “Must be stopped. Strong voter ID! @foxandfriends”
Whitley said he referred the flagged voters to Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for further investigation or prosecution. Paxton commended Whitley for “his proactive work in safeguarding” the state’s elections.
Voting illegally as a non-citizen in Texas is a second-degree felony that carries up to 20 years in state prison.
“Every single instance of illegal voting threatens democracy in our state and deprives individual Texans of their voice,” Paxton said in a statement. “Nothing is more vital to preserving our Constitution than the integrity of our voting process, and my office will do everything within its abilities to solidify trust in every election in the state of Texas.”
Voter rights advocates quickly criticized Trump and Texas Republicans for their statements, accusing them of engaging in misleading fear-mongering and spreading propaganda.
“We place full blame on state leaders like Attorney General @KenPaxtonTX who have used alarmist language to advance a false narrative meant to restrict the right to vote,” the Texas Civil Rights Project tweeted Sunday. “Unfortunately, the Attorney General & the President’s alarmist tweets could result in eligible voters being kicked-off the voter registration rolls & this is unacceptable.”
The TCRP explained that a legal permanent resident could have received their driver’s license in 2014 when ineligible to vote, then become eligible to vote the next year and therefore eligible to vote in the 2016 general election. Over 654,000 citizens were naturalized in 2014, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Over 50,000 are naturalized in Texas every year, the TCRP tweeted.
Whitley said his office will from now on cross-reference DPS data with the state’s voter registration database to flag potential non-citizens each month, then notify individual county registrars to investigate.
In his statement, Paxton touted his office’s successful prosecution of past voter fraud cases. It helped secure the conviction of Rosa Maria Ortega in Tarrant County in 2017. A Mexican citizen and legal U.S. resident, she was sentenced to eight years in state prison for illegally voting at least five times, most recently in the 2014 Republican primary runoff in Dallas County.
That same year, Paxton’s office aided in the investigation and arrest of Miguel Hernandez in Dallas County. Authorities began investigating that case when elderly voters in West Dallas complained about receiving absentee ballots they did not request and that a Hispanic man would later knock on their doors asking for the ballots and offering to deliver them on the voter’s behalf. Other voters complained they were unable to vote on Election Day as someone had already mailed in absentee votes in their names.