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County officials: State list of suspect voters has ‘significant’ errors

29 Jan

Lists of potential noncitizen registered voters, provided by the Texas secretary of state’s office for investigations into possible voting irregularity, contain a “significant” number of names that should not have been included, county elections officials said Tuesday.

Many names will be removed from the lists as validly registered U.S. citizens, elections officials in Travis and Williamson County said.

Secretary of State David Whitley made national news Friday when he trumpeted results of a study indicating that 95,000 non-U.S. citizens may have registered to vote, including 58,000 who voted in one or more elections since 1996.

He directed county officials, who are in charge of voter registration, to investigate the named voters. That process apparently uncovered key problems with the data.

It was unclear Tuesday whether Whitley would revise those numbers downward after employees in his office contacted county officials Tuesday morning to acknowledge that the lists included people who had done everything right by registering to vote while supplying proof of citizenship at a Department of Public Safety office.

His office did not immediately respond to questions on that matter.

Chris Davis, Williamson County’s elections administrator, said a secretary of state employee told his office that the list includes names of people who registered to vote at DPS offices, “and we were to remove them from the list and consider them citizens.”

The secretary of state originally provided a list of 2,033 registered voters in Williamson County who might not be U.S. citizens.

Asked how many names will be removed, Davis said: “I can’t speculate right now. … I know it’s significant.”

Bruce Elfant, Travis County’s tax assessor-collector, said employees were still trying to determine how many of the 4,547 names provided by the state will have to be removed from the list.

“I’m convinced that the list will be significantly less than what they sent to Travis County,” he said. “I can’t tell you what that is yet.”

According to the secretary of state’s office, Elfant said, the list included two categories of names that had to be addressed — one that listed people who registered to vote at a DPS office and needed to be removed immediately, and one that included people who could have become naturalized U.S. citizens at some point and needed to be treated with care because they would be eligible to vote.

“I want to give people the benefit of doubt that they did the best they can when they compiled this data,” Elfant said. “But we haven’t done this before, and they’re learning and we’re learning as we go. They made this allegation that a lot of people on the voter registration rolls are not citizens, and we have an obligation to learn what the truth is here.”

Asked to discuss the new directions given to counties, the secretary of state’s office issued a written statement.

“As part of the process of ensuring that no eligible voters are impacted by any list maintenance activity, we are continuing to provide information to the counties to assist them in verifying eligibility of Texas voters,” spokesman Sam Taylor said. “This is to ensure that any registered voters who provided proof of citizenship at the time they registered to vote will not be required to provide proof of citizenship as part of the counties’ examination.”

Also Tuesday, a Hispanic advocacy group filed a federal lawsuit that accuses state officials of leading a “carefully crafted” attack on the voting rights of legally registered Texans, particularly Latinos, by claiming there has been a possible rash of non-U.S. citizen voter participation.

Filed in San Antonio, the lawsuit by the League of United Latin American Citizens and its Texas branch asked U.S. District Judge Fred Biery to prohibit state officials from pursuing efforts to remove names from the voting rolls and declare that the attempt is a violation the Voting Rights Act.

“The pretextual facade of concern about voter fraud provides no cover for the voter intimidation at work here,” the lawsuit said.

LULAC sued Whitley, who on Friday sent an advisory telling county officials that new DPS data indicated that as many as 95,000 noncitizens may have registered to vote, and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who publicized the advisory by saying his office was ready to investigate “crimes against the democratic process.”

Whitley’s advisory directed counties to investigate the 95,000 names, compiled by comparing voter rolls against a Department of Public Safety-generated list of people who said they were not citizens, but were in the country legally, when they applied for a driver’s license or state identification card.

The problem with relying on the DPS information, the LULAC lawsuit argued, was its failure to account for those who became naturalized U.S. citizens after applying for a Texas driver’s license.

“The SOS-AG ‘matching’ gambit simply ignores this huge factor that on its surface shows how misguided and inaccurate the touted program is,” the lawsuit said.

The claim that 58,000 of the 95,000 people on the advisory list had voted in elections since 1996 — a possible felony if they were not citizens at the time — was a particularly egregious breach, the lawsuit argued, because it apparently used DPS data going back almost a quarter-century and matched it against current voter rolls.

“Full-fledged United States citizens, legally participating in Texas’s election system, particularly those who are part of the Latino community across the state, are being illegally targeted for voter intimidation,” the lawsuit said.

Whitley declined to comment on the lawsuit, a spokesman said Tuesday, referring questions to Paxton’s office.

“We look forward to appearing in court to defend Texas’ right to limit the state’s voting registration rolls to those actually eligible to vote,” Paxton spokesman Marc Rylander said.