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Texas Voting Rights

Greg Abbott downplays concerns about inaccuracy of secretary of state's voter citizenship review

The Texas governor said Thursday that the 95,000 voters that the secretary of state flagged for review was never meant to be a "hard-and-fast list."

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a joint press conference at the capitol to address property tax reform.  Jan. 31, 2019.

Texas Voting Rights

Whether it’s a botched voter citizenship review, legal battles over how the state draws its political maps, or the efforts to remove barriers to casting ballots, voting rights issues are the source of constant debate in Texas. Read The Texas Tribune’s comprehensive coverage of voting rights issues and tell us if you’ve encountered problems while trying to vote in Texas.

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott downplayed concerns Thursday about the voter citizenship review initiated last week by his secretary of state, even though it has since become clear that the state's list of flagged voters swept up thousands of U.S. citizens who should not have been scrutinized.

“This is what you would categorize as a process, a work [in progress]," Abbott said. "They’ll get it right, but I do want to be emphatic: It is essential that the secretary of state, [the Department of Public Safety], counties, anybody with any authority over this whatsoever work collaboratively and swiftly together to make sure our voter rolls are accurate, to ensure integrity in the election process.”

Last Friday, Abbott's newly named secretary of state, David Whitley, flagged a list of about 95,000 registered voters whom his office said had provided DPS with some form of documentation that showed they were not citizens when they obtained their driver's licenses or IDs.

The secretary of state's office said Friday that it immediately handed over information about the voters it flagged to the Texas attorney general's office. But within days, county officials heard from SOS officials who directed them to remove thousands of registered voters from their lists because they had been incorrectly flagged.

Reacting to Whitley's announcement Friday, Abbott thanked him for "uncovering and investigating this illegal vote registration," promising legislation to address it.

But when he was asked about the fiasco Thursday at an unrelated news conference, the governor recast the effort.

"They were clear that it was a weak match, and they were reaching out to counties saying, ‘Listen, this isn’t a hard-and-fast list," Abbott said. "This is a list that we need to work on together to make sure that those who do not have the legal authority to vote are not going to be able to vote."

Abbott's remarks come two days after it became clear secretary of state's office had mistakenly called into question the citizenship status of thousands of voters who were, in fact, citizens.

On Tuesday, the secretary of state's office quietly informed county officials it had incorrectly included some voters who submitted their voting registration applications at Texas Department of Public Safety offices and whose citizenship shouldn't have been questioned.

The secretary of state instructed counties to remove those people from the list of flagged voters. In Harris County alone, this error amounted to about 18,000 names — about 60 percent of the original list — that shouldn't have been included, according to local officials.

The Waco Tribune-Herald reported that the secretary of state's office told local election officials to disregard the entire list of 366 registered voters they had received from state because those people's citizenship status was actually not in question.

In Williamson County, election officials said they had discounted about half of their original list of 2,033 names after they removed the voters incorrectly flagged by the state and individuals they had already been able to identify as naturalized citizens.

The secretary of state's office has not responded to questions about how much this would reduce the initial count of 95,000 across the state and what effect it would have on the count of about 58,000 flagged voters whom the state said had cast ballots in one or more elections since 1996.

But on top of the voters who were mistakenly included, local election officials have pointed out that it’s possible that many of the individuals have become naturalized citizens since they obtained their driver’s licenses or ID cards.

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