The State of Texas used faulty data to question the citizenship status of tens of thousands of eligible, foreign-born voters in a systematic attempt at voter suppression, according to a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups.
The lawsuit was filed in response to a Jan. 25 advisory, issued by Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, in which county registrars were given a list of 95,000 registered voters who Whitley suggested were illegal voters because they were non-citizens when they applied for their driver’s licenses.
The problem is that Texas driver’s licenses are valid for six years, meaning that citizenship status cannot be inferred on the basis of driver’s license applications, according to the lawsuit filed by the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
Indeed, tens of thousands of people on the list were, in fact, naturalized citizens by the time they registered as voters, the lawsuit states.
In his advisory, Whitley instructed local poll officials to send all 95,000 people on the list a notice demanding proof of citizenship within 30 days.
He counselled authorities to cancel voters’ registrations if they didn’t provide proof of citizenship within 30 days or if the notice was returned as undeliverable with no forwarding address available.
“This is a system designed to remove as many registered individuals as possible, not to simply ensure that the potential stray non-citizen voter on the list is not permitted to vote,” the filing says.
“Providing a single notice with a short, 30-day time limit for a response with proof of citizenship is exceedingly strict and unlikely to result in a significant response rate from the many eligible voters on this list.”
According to the lawsuit, the advisory was designed to suppress newly naturalized voters, with Whitley and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton accused of “devising, implementing and loudly trumpeting a voter purge program that is guaranteed to discriminatorily target newly naturalized citizens and inaccurately label them ‘non-citizens’ based on stale data.”
It pointed to public statements by the pair, such as a Jan. 25 tweet from Paxton in which he said Whitley “discovered” some 95,000 non-U.S. citizens with voter registrations.
“Any illegal vote deprives Americans of their voice,” Paxton said in the tweet, which the lawsuit held up as an example of him and Whitley acting to deprive naturalized Americans of their voice.
Paxton’s tweet was retweeted by President Donald Trump, who dubbed the Texas numbers the “tip of the iceberg.”
The lawsuit cites the example of plaintiff Julie Hilberg, who became a naturalized citizen in 2015 after moving to Texas from the U.K. and voted in primary, general and special elections in 2016 and 2018.
However, she last renewed her driver’s license in 2014, when she was still a permanent resident and not yet a citizen, according to the lawsuit.
That made her a target of Whitley’s 95,000-strong list despite her being a naturalized citizen and registered voter for years, the lawsuit claims.
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The lawsuit also alleges that Whitley orchestrated a press campaign to publicize his supposed identification of nearly 100,000 non-eligible voters in conduct that was “objectively intimidating” to voters.
A similar voter purge program in Florida was deemed unlawful by the courts and abandoned by that state in 2012, the lawsuit points out.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare that Whitley’s voter purge program violates the U.S. Constitution and Voting Rights Act and that Whitley and Paxton’s public statements constitute unlawful voter intimidation.
The lawsuit also wants the court to order Whitley to rescind his election advisory and withdraw notifications demanding proof of citizenship from registered voters.
Whitley’s office quietly called county election chiefs to warn them about problems with its advisory, local officials told the Associated Press. But rather Whitley nor Paxton have addressed the allegations publicly.