Proof of Citizenship Shaping Up as Texas' Next Big Voting Rights Fight

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Texas' long fight over voter ID, settled just last year, is already old news. The state's new battlefront in the war for and against voter rights is over citizenship verification, and it looks like Texas could be in for another round of litigation.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and newly appointed Texas Secretary of State David Whitley fired the loudest shots so far in the new fight, claiming that more than 95,000 potential non-citizens — who'd cast some 58,000 ballots since 1996 — were on Texas' voter rolls.

Paxton and Whitley based their assertion on Texas Department of Public Safety records showing that the voters in question hadn't provided proof of citizenship to the agency when they got their driver's license or state ID card. U.S. permanent residents are eligible for either one in Texas.

Sunday, President Donald Trump asserted in a tweet that "58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas," citing the figure as proof of "rampant" voter fraud throughout the country.

Pushback against the state officials' claims began immediately. Many permanent residents don't immediately update their DPS records after they become citizens, Oak Cliff state Rep. Rafael Anchia, the chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House, tweeted Saturday.  

Monday, lawyers with 13 civil rights organizations warned the state that an advisory issued by Whitley asking county registrars to examine the citizenship of those singled out by the DPS data is unconstitutional.

“Given the long history of anti-immigrant policies and attempts at voter suppression by our Texas officials, we cannot trust that this investigation has been conducted in a fair and non-discriminatory manner,” said Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas. “History has shown that voter fraud is extremely rare and efforts to identify unlawful voting en masse have proven to be highly inaccurate. Despite President Trump’s histrionic and highly inaccurate statement about voter fraud, each county in Texas must now act responsibly so that marginalized communities can exercise their right to vote without intimidation.”

As the ACLU and other groups get ready for potential legal action against the state, bills have been filed in both of Texas' legislative chambers that would require anyone registering to vote in the state to prove their citizenship by providing documents — most commonly a birth certificate or passport — to the DPS or county voting officials. Similar bills have been pushed by the likes of former Dallas state Sen. Don Huffines but have failed to get much traction.

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