Texas Voting Rights

Texas officials flag tens of thousands of voters for citizenship checks

The list compiled by the Texas secretary of state contains 95,000 names. It’s unclear exactly how many of those individuals are not actually U.S. citizens and whether that number will be available in the future.

Additional verification is needed to determine whether the individuals on the secretary of state's list engaged in illegal voting.

The Texas secretary of state's office announced Friday it would send local election officials a list of 95,000 registered voters whom the state says counties should consider checking to see whether they are U.S. citizens and, therefore, legally eligible to vote.

In an advisory released Friday afternoon, the office said it was flagging individuals who had provided the Texas Department of Public Safety with some form of documentation — including a work visa or a green card — that showed they were not a citizen when they were obtaining a driver’s license or an ID card. Among the individuals flagged, about 58,000 individuals cast a ballot in one or more elections from 1996 to 2018, the secretary of state's office said.

It’s unclear exactly how many of those individuals are not actually U.S. citizens and whether that number will be available in the future. In its notice to counties, the secretary of state's office said the names should be considered "WEAK" matches, using all capital letters for emphasis.

That means counties may now choose to investigate the eligibility of the individuals who were flagged, which would require them to send a notice asking for proof of citizenship within 30 days, or take no action. By law, the counties aren't allowed to automatically revoke a voter's registration without sending out such a notice.

It's possible that individuals flagged by the state — who provided DPS with documentation that indicated they were authorized to be in the country — could have become naturalized citizens since they obtained their driver's licenses or ID cards. A spokesman for the secretary of state said officials are "very confident" that the data received from DPS is "current."

In announcing the review of the rolls, Secretary of State David Whitley — who was appointed to the post last month after serving as deputy chief of staff to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — immediately handed the data over to the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican who said his office will "spare no effort in assisting with these troubling cases."

But without additional verification, you can't say these individuals all engaged in illegal voting, said Chris Davis, the head of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators.

"People get naturalized," Davis said. "It's entirely too early to say that."

The numbers were released just a few weeks into a legislative session during which lawmakers may take up proposals to require some form of citizenship verification before a person registers to vote. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 rejected states' efforts to require proof of citizenship to register to vote. Other federal courts have knocked down more recent efforts.

"Integrity and efficiency of elections in Texas require accuracy of our state's voter rolls, and my office is committed to using all available tools under the law to maintain an accurate list of registered voters," Whitley said in a statement.

But Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, said the announcement echoed efforts around the country to remove eligible voters from the rolls.

"The secretary’s actions threaten to result in tens of thousands of eligible voters being removed from the rolls, including those with the least resources to comply with the demand to show papers," Stevens said.

In a state where about 15.8 million Texans are registered to vote, the attorney general’s office has recently pursued a small number of convictions of illegal voting by noncitizens. Past reviews of the voter rolls by other states ultimately found that only a small number of the thousands of noncitizens they initially flagged had actually voted. For years, researchers have found that voter fraud is rare and claims that noncitizens are voting in large numbers have not been substantiated.