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The Texas Official Who Threatened to Purge Thousands of Legal Voters Is Gone

Thousands of naturalized citizens were told to prove their citizenship or lose their registration.

by Emma Ockerman
May 28 2019, 4:52pm

The Texas acting secretary of state behind a disastrous voter-roll investigation left his position Monday after barely six months on the job.

In January, David Whitley announced a dramatic elections-integrity investigation had routed out suspected noncitizens who might need to be struck from voter rolls. His office claimed 58,000 people flagged had voted in at least one Texas election in the last 18 years. As it turned out, much of the investigation’s findings were wrong.

The secretary of state’s office realized four days after the announcement that a quarter of the people the state had identified as noncitizens were, in fact, eligible to vote as naturalized citizens. Many had already received letters telling them to prove their citizenship or lose their registration.

Read more: Republicans are using fake voter fraud to crush voting rights.

Civil rights groups sued, saying the move threatened to disenfranchise tens of thousands of legal voters, and Congress opened up an investigation into possible voter suppression. A federal judge temporarily blocked the state’s effort in February, saying there was no evidence of voter fraud, and Texas finally agreed to end the investigation as part of a settlement agreement with civil rights groups in April.

“Texans expect their government to do their due diligence before releasing incorrect and faulty data that could affect tens of thousands of people,” Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, told the Texas Tribune in January. “This confusion could have been avoided if the secretary and other state officials stopped their dangerous crusade to drum up support for their voter suppression agenda.”

Texas Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have blamed the flawed voting data on their Department of Public Safety, according to the Houston Chronicle. That agency compiled old driver's license records to compare to voter rolls. In February, Whitley apologized to Texas lawmakers, saying the data should’ve been reviewed more closely.

Read more: How the gutting of the Voting Rights Act led to hundreds of poll closures.

Whitley’s resignation came just before Texas’ Senate failed to confirm him as secretary of state, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Abbott, who had appointed Whitley, accepted his resignation just after the vote. This all took place on the last day of their legislative session before breaking for two years.

When Whitley first announced his office’s investigation, it spurred renewed claims of widespread voter fraud from President Donald Trump. Republicans have repeatedly claimed voter fraud led Trump to lose the popular vote in 2016. There was no evidence of widespread voter fraud, but that didn’t stop lawmakers from introducing restrictions on voting identification and registration across the country.

Cover: Acting Texas Secretary of State David Whitley arrives for his Feb. 7, 2019, confirmation hearing in Austin, Texas, where he addressed the backlash surrounding Texas' efforts to find noncitizen voters on voter rolls. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)