Texas Officials Attempt To Purge Voters From Rolls But Get Sued Over Claims Of Voter Suppression

credit: Hadley Paul Garland / Flickr / texassecretary / Instagram

When Texas Secretary of State David Whitely made inflammatory claims of voted fraud, there was already suspicion from the get-go. Whitley and Attorney General Ken Paxton notified county election officials on Jan. 25 that they suspected there were 95,000 noncitizens on their voting rolls, 58,000 of whom appeared to have voted in one or more elections since 1996. But the accusations were met with criticism and a bevy of lawsuits claiming “voter suppression,” particularly against Latinos. Texas officials have since conceded that at least 20,000 of the registered voters flagged as potential noncitizens actually had their citizenship verified.

Texas officials had to qucikly walkback an attempt to revoke voting rights from thousands of citizens.

The problem with Whitley’s claims are that the list was made through state records going back to 1996. It shows which Texas residents weren’t citizens when they got a driver’s license or other state ID. This means people who may have had green cards or work visas at the time they got a Texas ID are on the secretary of state’s office’s list, and many have become citizens since then.

After news that the numbers in the list of “flagged voters” was inaccurate, Whitley began warning counties across Texas to double-check voters citizenship. This led to several counties removing more than 20,000 names of people who registered with the Department of Public Safety. Estimates show about 1 million foreign-born Texans have become naturalized since 1996 with a majority of the state’s immigrant population born in Latin America. In the days since, county election officials are investigating the names listed further and suspect there may be more eligible voters, including naturalized citizens, on the list.

Voting rights organizations are suing with claims that Whitley’s investigation is another attempt of silencing the Latino vote.

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is among a handful of organizations that have filed a lawsuit against Whitley and Director of Elections Keith Ingram for the creation and rollout of what they are calling a “flawed voter purge list that discriminates against naturalized citizens.”

Luis Roberto Vera, national general counsel for LULAC, says the Secretary of State’s claim of voter fraud is irresponsible on many levels. He says the investigation was pulled out for one primary reason: to suppress the Latino vote.

“This was done to intimate Latinos nothing more than that because the truth of the matter is those numbers are very misleading,” Vera said. “We’re the easiest people to target in the state of Texas especially after this previous election.”

Vera points out that last November’s midterm elections saw the traditionally Republican state of Texas vote Democratic in various counties. There was surge in turnout across the state that saw a narrow victory for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz who won by a slim margin of victory of 2.7 percentage points. The rise in numbers could be attributed to the campaign former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke and the longstanding efforts of voting rights groups to encourage the Latino vote. According to the Huffington Post, Almost 78 percent of the 95,000 suspected noncitizen voters identified live in counties that voted Democrat in the 2018 midterm election.

The call of voter fraud is nothing new in the U.S. but rarely do the numbers show it’s a rampant growing issue.

What’s going on in Texas is nothing new as claims of voter fraud have been heard throughout the country for many years. Back in 2012, Florida officials put together a list of about 180,000 possible noncitizens. Shortly after it was cut down to about 2,600 names to only be verified and shortened to about 85 voters who were ultimately removed from the polls.

Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, founder and executive director of Jolt Initiative, a Latino voting rights group in Texas, says the moment she saw the voting fraud report she knew it was wrong. Ramirez says the state has made various efforts to make it harder for Latinos to vote which includes redistricting and strict voter I.D. laws.

“They [Texas] fear losing control and not having power. Instead of having power with their ideas they are using it to try and make it harder for us to vote,” Ramirez said. “Texas came within 2 points of turning blue and the thought of that for many in power here scares them.”

Ramirez points out that this shift in demographics in Texas is happening quickly not just in voting numbers but the growing population in the state overall. She says in Texas half of those turning 18 are Latino and state officials are casting a wide net on a whole racial group by doing releasing this false information.

“This info is dubious and it’s an attempt to stop eligible voters from voting,” she said. “In Texas, we have a low turnout and they are attempting to make sure the number of people who don’t vote particularity, Latino and Asians, stay that way.”

While the claims of voter fraud may have been exaggerated, they still have an effect on the perception of voting altogether.

While Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did call the investigation “a work in process,” the facts show that this is just another case of a failed process. Within hours of Whitley’s calls of voter fraud, the news grabbed headlines and even President Donald Trump weighed in on the claims. All this happened without any verification that Whitley’s unverified information was true, or in this case widely exaggerated.

Vera says this practice needs to be prevented from happening as unverified claims of voter fraud still make an impression in the public eye that is hard to fix. He says President Trump’s false claims in 2016 that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally became an issue after he spoke up. Even after his claims were proven false, Republicans in Iowa, New Hampshire, and North Carolina took action to prevent voter fraud from happening in their respective states.

“The email sent out made a big splash in the media and pushed this idea that there is a rampant voting issue happening in our country which could be further from the truth,” Vera said. “They did this to try and intimidate us but they failed again.”


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