In case you missed it news.
Washington Post – “Texas state officials have agreed to stop efforts to investigate and purge tens of thousands of supposed noncitizens from the state’s voter rolls, part of a settlement reached Friday with numerous civil rights groups.”
In January, TBN reported the news Texas’ acting secretary of state David Whitley rolled out and announced, with much fanfare, that state and Texas’ Department Public Safety (TXDPS) had identified and compiled a list of 95,000 people on Texas’ voter rolls as potential non-U.S. citizens, saying that “the individuals identified by DPS as non-U.S. citizens have a matching voter registration record in Texas … approximately 58,000 of whom have voted in one or more Texas elections.”
Whitley explains that upon receipt of this information Texas Secretary of State’s office immediately provided the data in its possession to the Texas Attorney General’s office, as the Secretary of State has no statutory enforcement authority to investigate or prosecute alleged illegal activity in connection with an election.TNB
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was ready with his own press release that Friday, stating his office would “spare no effort in assisting with these troubling cases.”
“Integrity and efficiency of elections in Texas require accuracy of our state’s voter rolls, and my office is committed to using all available tools under the law to maintain an accurate list of registered voters,” Whitley said.
That same day, the Fort Worth Star Telegram and Texas Tribune reported “the evaluation covered the years 1996 through 2018,” but Chris Davis, the head of Texas Association of Elections Administrations, told the Texas Tribune it was too early to say all of the votes cast between 1996 and 2018 were illegal, because non-citizens can become naturalized citizens
“No, we don’t know if 58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas,” Davis said, adding, “without additional verification, you can’t say these individuals all engaged in illegal voting … People get naturalized. It’s too early to say that.”
The Texas Tribune reported that five of the largest Texas counties officials, Harris, Travis, Fort Bend, Collin, and Williamson, told the paper that they’d each been contacted by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office indicating “that some of the voters whose citizenship status the state said counties should consider checking should not actually be on those lists,” because the Secretary of State’s office “incorrectly included some voters who had submitted their voting registration applications at Texas Department of Public Safety offices.”
Within less than two weeks, it was becoming more apparent with each day they’d all botched their efforts.
It started with Whitley’s announcement of the new list maintenance process on Jan. 25. For the better part of last year, the secretary of state’s office had been quietly working with the Texas Department of Public Safety to match the state’s voter rolls with data kept on Texans who indicated they were not citizens when they obtained their driver’s licenses or ID cards.
His office had offered training for local county officials ahead of sharing the data, and the secretary of state’s office advised them earlier in the day that the data would soon be released. But they had no warning about the press release Whitley sent out announcing the review, nor were they aware that Whitley had provided data of the approximately 95,000 voters who were initially flagged to the state’s top prosecutors even before county officials had access to it.
Counties were being sued days after the roll out and the state’s voter registration manager Besty Schonhoff, the main point of contact to local election officials, had suddenly disappeared.
Seven years into her post as the state’s voter registration manager, she was largely responsible for the training provided to county officials ahead of the review. Schonhoff and her team fielded calls from election officials across the state as they began to sift through their lists. And she was the person who reached out to many of them when her agency discovered that thousands of voters’ names had been mistakenly flagged.
But a week and half into the convoluted review efforts, Schonhoff — voter registrars’ main contact within the agency — disappeared.
County election officials who called the secretary of state’s office asking for her were informed she was not available. A county worker who traveled to Austin last week to meet with Schonhoff was told she was out that day.
By then, Schonhoff had been gone from the secretary of state’s office for several days. She abruptly resigned Feb. 6. But the county workers who relied on her experience overseeing the state’s voter rolls were kept in the dark.
A spokesman for the secretary of state denied that county officials were misled, saying those who called in were “directed to appropriate staff.” But during a call to Schonhoff’s office a week after she tendered her resignation and completed an exit interview the Texas Tribune was told, “Betsy’s not in.”
“It’s extremely odd, ” said John Oldham, Fort Bend County’s elections administrator, complaining at the time that “we don’t know what’s going on.”
“Oldham said he was tipped off about the announcement by a former local candidate who had seen a draft of the press release the attorney general’s office sent soon after Whitley’s announcement landed.”
“But others were caught flat-footed.”
The working relationship between the office of Secretary of State and county election officials became strained and “frayed.” Concerns began mounting that a rift in that relationship “could prove perilous to the state’s election system, which depends almost completely on countries and the state working hand-in-hand.”
State officials, including Texas Secretary of State David Whitley and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, have insisted that the voter citizenship check is nothing more than a routine, federally mandated and collaborative check that the voter rolls are up to date.
But many county officials are moving forward with extreme caution — if at all. Several have been sued — and one was accused by a state lawyer of violating the law — for following the directions the secretary of state’s office sent them to review the rolls. Others have expressed a loss of confidence in the data and process Whitley’s office is championing.
For some, the secretary of state’s muddled efforts to review the rolls have damaged the working relationship between the state and locals, in part because of the partisan nature the assignment has taken on.
“I heard it over and over again that this relationship is in tatters,” said Bruce Elfant, who oversees the voter rolls in Travis County. “We have to have a close relationship to make elections work.”
“Counties feel let down”
Fast-forward through three months.
According to the Washington Post, “the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, along with several other civil rights groups, filed a lawsuit against Whitley and other state elections officials, claiming that officials were aware the lists included naturalized citizens who were eligible to vote.”
“In February, a federal judge blocked the state’s efforts to remove people from its voter rolls, calling them “ham-handed” and “threatening.””
On Friday, the state agreed to rescind its efforts to investigate and remove any voters on those lists. Texas officials also agreed to a new process for maintaining its voter rolls, according to a copy of the settlement agreement.
“The state will also be responsible for covering $450,000 in legal fees related to the lawsuit.”
“After months of litigation, the state has finally agreed to do what we’ve demanded from the start — a complete withdrawal of the flawed and discriminatory voter purge list, bringing this failed experiment in voter suppression to an end,” Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “The right to vote is sacrosanct, and no eligible voter should have to worry about losing that right.”
Segura said the group would continue to monitor “any future voter purge attempt” by the state.
According to a recent Texas Tribune report the agreement would settle “three legal challenges brought by more than a dozen naturalized citizens and voting rights groups against the state” alleging “the voter citizenship review [launched in January] was unconstitutional and violated federal protections of voters of color.”
Whitley said in a statement the settlement had been a “collaborative” effort, vowing to protect voting rights of “all eligible Texans in the future.”
“Today’s agreement accomplishes our office’s goal of maintaining an accurate list of qualified registered voters while eliminating the impact of any list maintenance activity on naturalized U.S. citizens,” Whitley said in a statement Friday. “I will continue to work with all stakeholders in the election community to ensure this process is conducted in a manner that holds my office accountable and protects the voting rights of eligible Texans.”
As soon as the judge overseeing the case approves and signs off on the agreement the state will have five days to rescind the list.