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Texas has an illegal voting problem, according to the state's attorney general, Ken Paxton.EXPAND
Texas has an illegal voting problem, according to the state's attorney general, Ken Paxton.
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Potential Noncitizens Have Cast 58,000 Votes in Texas, Paxton Says

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton dropped quite the bombshell Friday afternoon: Nearly a year after his office announced an extensive voter fraud initiative, the Texas Secretary of State's office has discovered that about 95,000 individuals identified as not having documentation of their citizenship on file with the Texas Department of Public Safety have matching voter registration records in Texas. Fifty-eight thousand of those illegally registered voters have voted in one or more Texas elections, according to the attorney general's office.

Information about each of the potential illegal-voting cases — which occurred between 1996 and 2018, according to multiple media reports — have been handed over to Paxton's office, the attorney general said.

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“Every single instance of illegal voting threatens democracy in our state and deprives individual Texans of their voice," Paxton said. "We’re honored to have partnered with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office in the past on voter initiatives, and we will spare no effort in assisting with these troubling cases."

Over the last three years, Paxton's office has sought harsh sentences for several defendants accused of illegal voting. Rosa Ortega, a Tarrant County green card holder, is serving an eight-year prison sentence for voting as a noncitizen. During her trial, she testified that she didn't know that was the case.

"All my life since I worked, I always on my knowledge thought I was a U.S. citizen because I never knew the difference of U.S. citizen and U.S. resident. And the point is if I knew, everything would've been the correct way," she testified, according to reporters in the courtroom.

Friday, Paxton touted the prosecution of Ortega as an example of how his office is prepared to deal with those implicated in the secretary of state's investigation.

"My Election Fraud Unit stands ready to investigate and prosecute crimes against the democratic process when needed. We have obtained a number of successful noncitizen voter fraud convictions, including prison sentences for Rosa Ortega in Tarrant County and Laura Garza in Montgomery County," Paxton said. "Nothing is more vital to preserving our Constitution than the integrity of our voting process, and my office will do everything within its abilities to solidify trust in every election in the state of Texas. I applaud Secretary of State [David]  Whitley for his proactive work in safeguarding our elections.”

According to an advisory from the secretary of state's office, the list of potentially ineligible registered voters was compiled using a combination of name, birthday and Social Security number data from the Texas Department of Public Safety. The Secretary of State's Office will send the names on the list to the counties in which they are registered. It will then be up to the individual county registrars to attempt to verify the questionable registrants' citizenship status.

Texas Republicans said Friday that illegal votes definitely affected the outcome of Texas' 2018 election despite the fact that even if all 58,000 of the dubious votes were cast last year, they would've accounted for less than 1 percent of the nearly 8.4 million ballots cast in the Senate race between Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke.

"Identifying ineligible registrations and removing them from the voter rolls is the first step toward restoring integrity to our electoral process. No doubt these voters affected election results in 2018. We cannot afford voter fraud in 2020 and must stop this abuse now. It is a crime and it is damaging to our republic," Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey said. "We ask the Legislature to consider what additional changes may be needed to reduce potential voter fraud and protect the right to vote for all Texas citizens.”

Beth Stevens, the voting rights legal director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said she was worried about the potentially fraudulent voting but emphasized that Paxton's "alarmist language" threatens voting rights across Texas.

"The announcement today by the Secretary of State is concerning, but unfortunately similar to efforts around the country to remove eligible voters from the rolls," Stevens said in a statement. "The secretary's failure to fully disclose the methodology used to create his list is suspect. Notable, Texas has one of the largest rates of naturalization in the United States, with about 50,000 Texas residents becoming naturalized citizens each year. Whether the states of the persons on the secretary's list has been taken into account is unclear and, based on the rate of naturalization in Texas every month, highly suspect."

In a Twitter thread Saturday, Oak Cliff state Representative Rafael Anchia, the chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House, emphasized Stevens' point. While newly naturalized citizens are often among the most eager Texas residents to vote, they aren't as eager to go to the DPS and update their citizenship status as it pertains to their driver's license, Anchia said. 

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