Texas Secretary of State Resigns After Voting List Fiasco

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Embattled Texas Secretary of State David Whitley resigned late Monday after the Texas Senate refused to confirm his appointment on the last day of the legislative session, perturbed by an embarrassingly botched voter fraud list that incorrectly flagged thousands of voters as possible noncitizens.

David Whitley. (AP file photo)

Whitley, a Republican, thanked Gov. Greg Abbott for appointing him to the post in December and for trusting him in a job that “goes beyond what I ever dreamed of as a kid growing up in a small South Texas community.”

“During my time as secretary of state, I’ve had the chance to experience the best of our state and its people,” Whitley wrote. “I met with county election officials and high school principals to talk about ways to increase youth participation in elections.”

Whitley quit due to the refusal of all 12 Democratic senators to support his nomination. He needed two-thirds of the 31-member chamber to confirm his nomination. There are 19 Republicans in the chamber, meaning at least two Democrats needed to vote for him.

Whitley made headlines one month after his appointment when he issued a voter fraud advisory to county voter registrars that claimed 95,000 registered voters in Texas were possible noncitizens when they applied for state drivers’ licenses or identification cards.

He asked the officials to confirm each person’s citizenship status, stating that about 58,000 of those flagged had since voted in at least one Texas election. The list was compiled during a yearlong comparison of Texas Department of Public Safety records and voter rolls.

Whitley further angered lawmakers when he reported the names to Attorney General Ken Paxton for possible prosecution. Voting illegally as a noncitizen in Texas is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

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

That did not stop President Trump from incorrectly tweeting 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 and cost him the popular vote.

Several large Texas counties quickly reported substantial errors with the names Whitley’s office sent them. Officials in Harris County, based in Houston, removed nearly 18,000 of the 30,000 names flagged.

Dallas County officials reported nearly 1,700 of the 10,000 names they were sent were incorrect. Officials in Williamson and Travis counties reported that at least 50% 14% of the names have been removed from their lists, respectively.

Three federal civil rights lawsuits were quickly filed against Whitley, by The League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, claiming the list was meant to intimidate Latino voters.

In one case, a plaintiff from Galveston County who is a naturalized citizen said the letter she received from the county questioning her citizenship status “stigmatized” her as a person who might have voted illegally.

Whitley settled the lawsuits in April, agreeing to rescind the list and to pay $450,000 in attorneys’ fees. He agreed to limit the scope by which his office compares voter rolls to Department of Public Safety records. Whitley also agreed to be more transparent about that process, agreeing to inform the plaintiffs three days before sending any more flagged records to county registrars for investigation. (last link)

Alluding to the controversy, Whitley wrote in his resignation letter that he “built a bridge for opposing voices to engage in dialogue to improve election integrity and access.”

Whitley first spoke publicly about the flawed list during his Feb. 7 confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Nominations. He refused to apologize and deflected questions on errors made by his office. He finally apologized in a Feb. 13 letter to lawmakers, stating that in hindsight “more time should have been devoted to additional communication with the counties and DPS to further eliminate” those eligible to vote from the list.

“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.”

The list was so controversial it drew the attention of Democrats in Congress. The House Oversight Committee announced in March that it is investigating the matter and demanded documents from DPS “that served as the basis for the advisory.” Paxton denied the request.

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