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Texas Voting Rights

Amid voter rolls debacle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Texas Republicans are undermining the U.S. Constitution

Pelosi was in Austin to promote an election reform bill that would require local election officials to make it easier to vote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-TX 35, hold a joint press conference on H.R. 1 on Mar. 5, 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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Weeks into a flawed voter citizenship review effort that jeopardized the voting rights of thousands of naturalized citizens, Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday aligned recent actions of Texas Republican leaders with what she characterized as broader efforts to undermine the U.S. Constitution.

Joining Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett in his hometown of Austin to rally support for federal legislation that would expand voting access, Pelosi stood with Julieta Garibay, a naturalized citizen who was among the almost 100,000 registered voters whose citizenship was questioned by Texas officials. Pelosi celebrated Democrats winning a majority in the U.S. House, which she said gave the party “leverage against these unconstitutional actions that are being taken by some in power in this state.”

“I say to [Republicans] sometimes: When we get to heaven and meet our founders, are you going to say to them, ‘I did everything in my power to suppress the vote’? Because that is what you are doing,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi pointed to President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the border, partisan gerrymandering and the Trump administration’s efforts — backed by top Texas Republicans — to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census as the context through which the state of voting rights should be viewed.

And she highlighted Garibay as a “victim” of Texas’ botched voter rolls. Pelosi said Garibay's story proved the need to pass House Resolution 1, a sweeping election reform bill that would require local election officials to make it easier to vote by establishing automatic voter registration and creating new rules for certain voter rolls purges, among other measures. The U.S. House is expected to vote on the legislation this week.

“The actions taken here in Texas cross the threshold of saying no, saying no to what has happened here but saying yes to what the vision was of our founders for our democracy,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi’s comments come as the state’s voter citizenship review continues to unravel. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is now blaming the longtime head of the Department of Public Safety, Steve McCraw, for foul-ups in the data that the Texas secretary of state’s office used to flag almost 100,000 registered voters as possible noncitizens.

Meanwhile, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, an Abbott appointee, is facing a tough confirmation fight amid the fallout surrounding the review efforts, which were riddled with errors that led officials to wrongly question the citizenship status of almost 25,000 Texans and seemingly targeted tens of thousands of naturalized citizens who are legitimate voters.

Despite inaccuracies in the data, Abbott and Whitley have defended the review, saying it was part of a good-faith effort to ensure the integrity of the voter rolls.

“The secretary of state has kind of a singular mission, and that is to promote fair elections in the state of Texas,” Abbott said Monday. “One thing that he believes in, one thing that I think all Texans can agree upon, and that is fair elections mean two things: Everyone who is eligible to vote should be able to vote. Everyone who is ineligible to vote should be denied the ability to vote.”

The review effort landed the state in federal court. And District Judge Fred Biery so far has sided with the naturalized citizens and voting and civil rights groups that sued the state. Those groups allege that the review process was unconstitutional because it placed electoral burdens on naturalized citizens that native-born Americans in Texas would not face.

As part of the state’s review, naturalized citizens on the state’s list began receiving letters ordering them to prove they are citizens within 30 days to avoid being kicked off the rolls. Biery has since temporarily blocked local officials from purging any voters from the rolls as part of the citizenship review.

On Tuesday, Pelosi avoided explicitly criticizing the top Republicans behind the state’s voter rolls review by name. But Doggett and Garibay echoed concerns by Democrats and civil rights leaders about the detrimental effect they believe the Republican’s review will have on naturalized citizens.

“Whitley, [Attorney General Ken] Paxton and Abbott sounded a false alarm of voter fraud with the sole purpose of not only trampling over my rights as a U.S. citizen but of intimidating foreign-born, naturalized citizens like me from exercising our rightful duty to go out and vote,” Garibay said.

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