Texas Settles Botched Voter Roll Citizenship Dispute

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

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Texas officials rescinded a botched list questioning the citizenship status of 95,000 registered voters on Friday, settling federal civil rights claims that the list suppressed votes from Latino citizens.

Texas Secretary of State David Whitley issued the voter fraud advisory in January, claiming the voters were flagged when voter rolls were compared with Texas Department of Public Safety records stating they were not citizens when they applied for state driver’s licenses or identification cards.

He said 58,000 of the flagged names had since voted in at least one Texas election and referred the names to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for possible prosecution.

Voting illegally as a noncitizen in Texas is a second-degree felony that carries up to 20 years in state prison.

Whitley did not go as far as to say all 58,000 definitely voted illegally, but he also did not say when the results of follow-up investigations by individual counties would be made public.

Several federal lawsuits were quickly filed by civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Several individual plaintiffs stated they are on the list in spite of becoming naturalized citizens after they obtained a driver’s license or state identification card.

Friday’s settlement ends three of those lawsuits. Texas agreed to pay $450,000 to cover the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and Whitley agreed to limit the scope in 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 future flagged records to individual county registrars for further investigation.

Within days of the list’s announcement, four larger Texas counties reported substantial errors in the number of names forwarded by Whitley.

Officials in Harris County, home of Houston, said approximately 18,000 of the nearly 30,000 people flagged in their county will be removed from the list, the Houston Chronicle reported.  

Dallas County officials told The Dallas Morning News that 1,715 of their 9,938 flagged registered voters were incorrectly included. Officials in Williamson and Travis counties report at least 50 and 14 percent have been removed from their lists, respectively.

In spite of the uncertainty, prominent state and national Republicans quickly touted the announcement on social media as proof of voter fraud. President Donald Trump incorrectly tweeted 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.

Paxton’s office could not be reached for comment Friday evening.

Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas, celebrated the settlement as an end to “this failed experiment in voter suppression.”

“The right to vote is sacrosanct, and no eligible voter should have to worry about losing that right,” he said in a written statement. “We are glad that the state has agreed to give up this misguided effort to eliminate people from the voter rolls, and we will continue to monitor any future voter purge attempt by the state to ensure that no eligible Texan loses their voice in our democracy.”

Whitley’s days in office appear numbered, as the Texas Senate has yet to confirm his December appointment by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. A Republican, Whitley needs two-thirds of the chamber to vote in support. There are 19 Republican senators, meaning he needs at least two Democrats. All Democrat senators have publicly stated their opposition to his confirmation due to the embarrassing release of the list.

The flawed voter purge has also caught the attention of Congress, with the Democrat-controlled House Oversight Committee requesting documents from the state in March. Paxton flatly rejected the request last month, citing ongoing litigation.

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