On January 25, Texas Secretary of State Whitley issued an advisory to county registrars announcing the transmittal of a list of 95,000 people who indicated they were noncitizens when they applied for their driver licenses, and who are currently registered to vote.
Secretary Whitley suggested that these were illegal noncitizen voters. They are not.
The list used by the secretary of state’s office is stale and outdated. Driver licenses in Texas last six years. According to Homeland Security data, between 50,000 and 65,000 Texas residents become naturalized citizens each year. Since the list was released, both the secretary of state's office and county registrars have already discovered that tens of thousands of people on the list are properly registered citizens. Now, the former Secretary of State (under Governor Abbott) Carlos Cascos has called on the effort to be rescinded.
Nonetheless, Secretary Whitley transmitted the names, encouraged investigations, and encouraged a letter to be sent providing 30 days for the recipients to prove their citizenship or have their registrations cancelled.
Despite admissions from Secretary Whitley’s office that the list is “weak” and likely includes naturalized citizens, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has increased the harm of state’s announcement by intimidating naturalized citizens with potential unjustified criminal investigations.
Our partners, Texas League of United Latin American Citizens and National League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), quickly sued alleging that the program and the publicity around is was unlawful voter intimidation under the Voting Rights Act. CLC joined the lawsuit on behalf of LULAC, and an individual citizen Julie Hilberg, whose name is on the list.
Our complaint alleges that Texas’s new voter purge program aimed at naturalized citizens is discriminatory and an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, violations of the 1st and 14th Amendments. The false allegations by Texas officials has cast a “pall of suspicion on the democratic process and stoke public fears of noncitizen voting.” Whitley’s intimidating and well-publicized statements have created a hostile environment for newly naturalized voters – largely Latino – and amounts to voter intimidation and is a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
CLC has also sent a notice letter to Secretary Whitley informing him of the National Voter Registration Act violations created by his new voter purge program.
A federal court has ruled that a nearly identical program pursued by Florida was unlawful. The court explained that this program (which the Florida Secretary of State abandoned) violated the NVRA’s requirement that list maintenance activities be uniform and nondiscriminatory. The same is true here.