Friday afternoon came the breathless proclamation from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Texas Secretary of State David Whitley: Ninety-five thousand noncitizens were on Texas' voter rolls, and 58,000 of them had cast ballots between 1996 and 2018.
Friday night and Saturday, progressive groups and Democrats pushed back, suggesting that many of those on Whitley's list could very well have become citizens between getting their Texas driver's license or ID card and registering to vote, something the DPS data on which the secretary of state was relying couldn't account for.
Sunday, President Donald Trump got in on the fun, tweeting that Paxton and Whitley had found the tip of the electoral fraud iceberg. Monday, 13 advocacy groups threatened to sue the state for, they said, unconstitutionally challenging the voting rights of Texas' Latino and Latina population. Tuesday, the League of United Latin American Citizens filed a lawsuit and, perhaps most important, the secretary of state's office began to walk back the claims it made on Friday.
Tuesday morning, voter registrars across the state, including Dallas County's Toni Pippins-Poole, got calls from Whitley's office, explaining that many of the voters included on the initial list the secretary of state sent over for citizenship checking may have already provided proof of citizenship to the state.
"We got a call this morning advising us that there were some issues with the data provided by [the Office of the Secretary of State]," Pippins-Poole said. "It had some information in there that should not have been included with this list for possible verification — voters had already proven their citizenship to DPS."
The Office of the Secretary of State said it is just making sure counties have all the information they need before they begin checking if the voters on their list are citizens.
“As part of the process of ensuring that no eligible voters are impacted by any list maintenance activity, we are continuing to provide information to the counties to assist them in verifying eligibility of Texas voters," said Sam Taylor, spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of State. "This is to ensure that any registered voters who provided proof of citizenship at the time they registered to vote will not be required to provide proof of citizenship as part of the counties’ examination.”
The file provided by the secretary of state and the attorney general to Dallas County contained 9,938 names, Poole said. The county is going through the list to see which registered voters should not have been included in the first place. Pippins-Poole is also seeking an opinion from the Dallas County District Attorney's Office about if and how she should verify the citizenship status of those who remain on the list.
Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director with the Texas Civil Rights Project — one of the first groups to cry foul over the state's initial claims — said that the new information about the calls to county officials confirmed what she believed on Friday.
“Even more troubling, we are now hearing from county officials that they are receiving phone calls from the secretary’s office advising them to remove flagged individuals if they registered to vote through a Department of Public Safety transaction," Stevens said. "As expected, it seems that the secretary has not accounted for the thousands of people who naturalized as citizens and are therefore eligible to register to vote and cast a ballot. This would dramatically cut the number of individuals that were initially flagged as noncitizens on Texas’ voter registration rolls.”
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.