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Texas Secretary of State Almost Apologizes for Attempted Voter Purge

Texas Secretary of State David Whitley appears at a Texas Senate hearing last Thursday.EXPAND
Texas Secretary of State David Whitley appears at a Texas Senate hearing last Thursday.
Texas Senate

The Texas secretary of state's job is a pretty good one. Whoever holds it gets an annual salary of more than $130,000 to make sure the state's election machinery runs smoothly, which has to be satisfying. Barring any monumental screw-ups, the job is easy to keep, too. There are no elections to win, you just have to stay in the good graces of the Texas Senate and the governor who signed your appointment.

So it makes sense that the current secretary of state, David Whitley, wants to keep his gig.

That's why Texas senators got a letter from Whitley on Wednesday. In it, the secretary does the barest minimum to sort of apologize for the mess he created late last month, when he implied that more than 95,000 noncitizens were registered to vote in Texas. Whitley relied on data from the Texas Department of Public Safety, which does not immediately receive records of former U.S. legal residents who become naturalized citizens. That led to inflated numbers on the list, something staffers from his office admitted they knew might happen, according to testimony in a Texas Senate hearing earlier this week.

Last week, Whitley expressed little regret to the Senate Nominations Committee about the press release he sent out touting his claims.

This week, knowing that he won't keep his job if he can't get two Democratic senators to vote for his confirmation, Whitley was a bit more conciliatory. A bit.

“After close consultation with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), the counties, and members of the Texas Legislature, I have discovered that additional refining of the data my office provides to county voter registrars, both in substance and in timing, is necessary to ensure a more accurate and efficient list maintenance process,” Whitley wrote in a letter obtained by the Texas Tribune.

Whitley goes on to say that he should've been clearer when he made the announcement that he was forwarding the names of thousands of voters to Texas' county registrars for citizenship checks.

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"My office devoted significant time and effort to educating local registrars about the upcoming list maintenance activity," Whitley wrote. "In hindsight, however, before announcing the number of people who may not be eligible to vote, more time should have been devoted to additional communication with the counties and DPS to further eliminate anyone from our original list who is, in fact, eligible to vote."

While delayed contrition is better than no contrition at all, Whitley's admissions come after his decisions led to multiple lawsuits being filed against the state, alleging that his actions amounted to an unconstitutional assault on the voting rights of Texas' naturalized citizens. He is waiting for his nomination to be cleared by the nominations committee. If Whitley clears that hurdle, he'll need a two-thirds vote from the full Senate to keep his job.

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