Texas Must Make New Voter Purge Program Records Accessible To the Public

Issues
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A gavel in front of the state flag of Texas

A state’s refusal to comply with the National Voter Registration Act’s (NVRA) public disclosure requirement is not an esoteric question of public records maintenance. Rather, it is an act of stonewalling public monitoring intended to ensure that all citizens have equal access to the ballot.

That is why earlier this week Campaign Legal Center (CLC), along with partners, filed a complaint challenging Texas’ flouting of its obligations under federal election law.

U.S. citizens have the right to vote, and states cannot impose additional registration requirements depending on a citizen’s nation of origin. But public monitoring is necessary to enforce these constitutional guarantees and protect against state programs that might otherwise deny certain U.S. citizens’ right to vote in a discriminatory fashion.  

The NVRA requires states to maintain accurate and current voter rolls to ensure that all eligible applicants are properly registered. To enforce compliance, Congress included a requirement that states make their records available to the public.  

For months, however, Texas has been refusing to produce its voter roll maintenance records to CLC and other pro-democracy civil rights organizations. 

Transparency in states’ maintenance of their voter rolls is imperative to ensure that every voter can successfully cast their ballot in their state of residence.  

Therefore, on Feb. 1, 2022, CLC, along with American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Texas, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and DĒMOS, filed a complaint in federal court to compel Texas to produce the requested records pursuant to the NVRA’s public disclosure requirement. 

Texas’ own history makes clear why this transparency is necessary. In 2019, Texas implemented a voter purge program that unlawfully targeted tens of thousands of naturalized citizens for removal from the voter rolls.  

The program relied on driver’s license and other records from the state’s Department for Public Safety (DPS) despite those records’ outdated citizenship data for naturalized citizens who previously obtained a driver’s license or personal identification card as a lawful permanent resident.

CLC and its partners sued Texas in 2019, resulting in a settlement agreement that required Texas to revise its voter purge program and stop canceling naturalized citizens’ voter registrations based on stale DPS records.  

Unfortunately, in 2021, Texas Secretary of State John Scott announced a new voter purge program based on citizenship data that appears to again target naturalized citizens for removal from the voter rolls.  

Reporting indicates that at least some sizable subset of the individuals identified to be purged in this new program are in fact wrongly flagged U.S. citizens, but the extent that the program targets naturalized citizens for improper removal is unknown while the state conducts its new voter purge program hidden from public view.  

Public access to records pertaining to Texas’ new voter purge program is necessary for the public to monitor the state’s new voter purge program, and public monitoring is imperative to ensure that the program does not improperly cancel naturalized citizens’ voter registrations.

It is also necessary to confirm that the program complies with the state’s 2019 settlement obligations.  

By refusing requests for public inspection of its new voter purge program records, the state is leaving Texans in the dark. The court should order Texas to fulfill its NVRA obligations and make its new voter purge program records accessible to the public.

Texas must release these records so we can continue to protect Texans' freedom to vote and guarantee safe and accessible elections for all.

This would enable the public monitoring of states’ voter roll maintenance activities that Congress envisioned when it enacted the NVRA to ensure that the federal law is upheld and that all U.S. citizens can vote. 

Alice is a senior legal counsel on CLC's voting rights team.
Texas' Purging of U.S. Citizens from Its State Voter Rolls