Rights Advocates Ask Judge to Stop Texas From Wrongly Purging Voter Rolls

(Bloomberg) -- Voting-rights advocates asked a federal judge to stop Texas from improperly purging voter rolls after state election officials questioned the citizenship of 95,000 registered voters.

The state’s local elections will be held May 4. Candidate filing for the elections opened Jan. 16 and early voting starts on April 22.

Texas’s assertion that 58,000 of the individuals voted illegally in at least one election set off a political firestorm over the weekend with groups disputing the accuracy of what they say is a politicized claim. It was further fanned by President Donald Trump, who trumpeted that the stats proved “rampant” voter fraud in the U.S.

The report, released Jan. 25, was based on data in which people identified themselves as non-citizens when they obtained drivers’ licenses or ID cards at some point during the past 23 years.

Calling the voter purge campaign “an election-related witch hunt,” Luis Roberto Vera Jr., national general counsel of the League of United Latin American Citizens or LULAC, said Texas is trying to intimidate minority voters and fuel partisan distrust of local registration rolls.

Texas’s non-citizen voter data ignores the fact that tens of thousands of immigrants become naturalized citizens and vote legally after the date they applied for Texas drivers’ licenses or ID cards, Vera said in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Antonio. But since Texas refuses to release the underlying data, even to local election registrars, no one can verify the state’s claims or cross-check the rosters of naturalized citizens against Texas Department of Public Safety records.

Texas is using “DPS data that goes back nearly a quarter-century and ‘matching’ it against current voter registration data,” Vera said in the complaint. And by keeping the underlying data secret, state election officials can “publicly state whatever they wished without fear of contradiction on any specifics.”

Pressure Officials

“It is designed to pressure local officials, forced to operate in the dark as far as the data is concerned yet threatened with attacks for not acting according to the wishes of the secretary of state and attorney general, into setting in motion coercive efforts to force voters on the ‘match’ list to prove they are validly registered to vote -- while the broad swath of voters are left alone and undisturbed,” Vera said.

Texas officials have admitted some of the names in the report may have been included in error because people became citizens later, Dallas News reported. The paper said state officials asked several county election offices to hold off demanding proof of citizenship from people on the list.

Almost 53,000 Texans became naturalized citizens in 2014, according to LULAC’s complaint, which notes that the number of applications for naturalization have shot up 87 percent nationwide since Trump took office.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, referred to “election crimes” in public statements about the non-citizen voter data and vowed to prosecute offenders. As a result, Vera said, some Latino voters who are “properly and legally registered” have contacted local election officials and asked to have their names taken off voting rolls.

Critics claim Texas’s Republican leadership is trying to score political points by sensationalizing the data to make it appear that voter fraud -- which is statistically nonexistent in Texas -- is a widespread problem. Even if all 58,000 suspected noncitizen voters were proven to have illegally cast Texas ballots in 2018, they’d comprise less than 1 percent of the more than 8.3 million people who voted for governor last year.

The case is Texas League of United Latin American Citizens vs David Whitley, 5:19-cv-074, United States District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio).

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