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Texas Secretary of State David Whitley appears at a Texas Senate hearing on Feb. 7.EXPAND
Texas Secretary of State David Whitley appears at a Texas Senate hearing on Feb. 7.
Texas Senate

U.S. House Oversight Committee Looking into Texas SoS’s Attempted Voter Purge

The hits just keep on coming for acting Texas Secretary of State David Whitley. He remains unconfirmed by the Texas Senate and under federal court scrutiny for his attempted purge of almost 100,000 voters from the state's registration lists. Now, thanks to the U.S. House of Representatives' Oversight Committee, he's getting attention from the feds, too.

"We are disturbed by reports that your office has taken steps to remove thousands of eligible American voters from the roll in Texas and that you have referred many of these Americans for possible criminal prosecution for exercising their right to vote," Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the committee, and Jamie Raskin, the chairman of the committee's civil rights and civil liberties committee, write in a letter to Whitley.

With more than a little help from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Whitley issued a press release and advisory to Texas' 254 counties in January, warning that Texas had 95,000 potential noncitizens on its voter rolls. County registrars, the advisory said, should check to see whether anyone whose name appeared on the list was actually a U.S. citizen. Whitley's announcement came on a Friday afternoon, and he got headlines from the media and attention from President Donald Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, among others. Before the weekend was over, however, his list began to fall apart.

Shortly after sharing the 95,000 names, the Secretary of State's Office quickly advised counties not to take any action based on the list, because it might contain the names of naturalized citizens. The following week, at a hearing in front of the state Senate's nominating committee, Whitley fanned the flames of what was quickly turning into a crisis, refusing to take responsibility for jumping the gun with bad data — choosing instead to blame the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Within a month of Whitley's advisory, advocacy groups had filed three lawsuits against the state, claiming that the list and the actions Whitley initially demanded be taken unconstitutionally targeted naturalized citizens living in Texas. The federal judge in one of the suits agreed, issuing a temporary injunction barring any county in the state from taking action based on the list without direct permission from his court.

Despite the judge's ruling and the firestorm that's enveloped his office over the last month, Whitley and his office are still developing procedures to send out lists of potential noncitizen voters so counties around the state can conduct monthly checks of their rolls.

Due to "serious concerns that have been raised about [the Secretary of State's Office]," Cummings and Raskin want copies of all interoffice communications related to the advisory, the Texas DPS documents that served as the basis of the list, as well as communications between the Secretary of State's Office and Paxton, Abbott and Trump administration officials, should they exist, so that they can look into any potential civil or voting rights violations by Whitley's office.

Texas House Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, a Democrat from McAllen and policy chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, called on Whitley to acknowledge his mistakes in light of the federal action.

“In spite of abundant evidence that acting-Secretary Whitley abused his authority and neglected to do his due diligence before challenging thousands of naturalized American citizens’ right to vote and referring them to Attorney General Ken Paxton for criminal prosecution, acting-Secretary Whitley remains on the path to confirmation and he has yet to accept responsibility for his actions," Rodriguez said.

The Texas Secretary of State's Office did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday afternoon.

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