Sunday, June 23, 2024

Texas Secretary of State refuses to admit his office made a mistake when it publicized an inaccurate list of suspected non-citizens

Texas’s top election official refused to say his office erred when it publicized an inaccurate list of 95,000 suspected noncitizens on the state’s voter rolls and sent the names to the attorney general for potential prosecution.

In his first comments since setting off a firestorm that has resulted in three federal lawsuits, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley (R) downplayed concerns that his office used unverified data to stir up fears of voter fraud. “We’re following state law and federal law in this procedure,” Whitley said, speaking at a confirmation hearing before a Texas Senate committee.

But under questioning from Democratic lawmakers, Whitley struggled to explain why, in a press release two weeks ago, his office said 95,000 noncitizens could be on the voter rolls even though that data hadn’t been verified with local election officials. Whitley said he issued the press release because his office does not have investigative authority and he wanted to quickly get the data to officials who could act on it.

“I was confident it was the best data,” Whitley said of the information he received from state officials, adding that he had received assurances it was accurate. County officials are investigating the list of suspected noncitizens and have already identified substantial errors ― at least 20,000 people have been removed from the list.

Civil rights groups accused Whitley and Paxton of prematurely sending out unverified data and stirring up fears of voter fraud. During Thursday’s hearing, Whitley refused to say his office had made mistakes in the data it sent to state officials, instead, he said the process of verifying voters’ citizenship was meant to be “collaborative,” and that his office had always intended for local officials to verify the data.

Texas state Sen. José Menéndez (D) asked how the data could be accurate if it didn’t contain up-to-date citizenship records. “If they don’t have the naturalization data, maybe it’s not the best data in the state,” he said.

“Secretary Whitley’s testimony today only deepened our concerns regarding the flawed and inaccurate voter purge list that his office sent to counties two weeks ago,” Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director at the Texas Civil Rights Project ― which is also suing Whitley ― said Thursday. “Instead of taking full responsibility for this debacle, he passed the buck to the previous Secretary and the Department of Public Safety.”