SAN ANTONIO – The Texas Secretary of State will reform the way it identifies voters for investigation of U.S. citizenship and withdraw the election advisory sent to all counties earlier this year, according to a settlement agreement reached today with civil rights groups.
The lawsuit was filed by Latino voters and organizations represented by MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), and Asian Americans Advancing Justice|AAJC (Advancing Justice|AAJC) later joined the legal challenge. The settlement with Texas officials comes three months after state officials began singling out naturalized citizens for investigation and possible removal from voter rolls based solely on the fact that they were born outside the United States.
“This settlement brings an end to a deplorable Texas farce, in which state leaders shamelessly lied about alleged widespread fraud by Latino and other immigrants, grabbing headlines and national attention,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “Much like Donald Trump’s similarly baseless allegation after losing the popular vote in 2016, there was nothing to the Texas leaders’ claims, and they knew it, sacrificing voters’ peace of mind and their own integrity for the sake of scurrilous politicking.”
MALDEF sued the Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, other state officials and a number of counties in February after Whitley sent an advisory to county registrars directing them to send letters to more than 95,000 registered voters threatening to purge them for non-U.S. citizenship. The next day, Whitley informed the counties that the list of suspect voters issued by his office contained erroneous information, but he did not withdraw the list or advisory. Within weeks the Secretary of State’s office admitted that at least 25,000 voters on the purge list were U.S. citizens.
In February, MALDEF secured a temporary order in federal court suspending the voter purge. (Read order HERE)
“Targeting naturalized U.S. citizens for removal from the voter rolls is a direct strike at Latino political participation in Texas,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for MALDEF. “The only voter fraud here was committed by state officials, who admitted that they knew they were sending the names of naturalized citizens to the counties for a purge.”
The Secretary of State’s list of suspect voters was based on information provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety about individuals who were non-citizens at the time they applied for a driver’s license or state identification. That information, however, did not indicate whether individuals obtained citizenship after applying for a driver’s license. Texas driver’s licenses issued to lawful permanent residents are valid for six years, during which time many immigrants become eligible to naturalize and register to vote.
Among those wrongly identified as a suspect voter is Julieta Garibay, a naturalized citizen who voted in the 2018 election. Garibay, who is represented by MALDEF, learned from Travis County that she was on the list.
“As a naturalized citizen affected by Secretary Whitley’s voter suppression, I’m glad to hear that our lawsuit has ensured Texas voters will remain on the voter rolls,” Garibay said. “The judge’s decision reasserts that Whitley is not fit to serve as our State Secretary, and we count on Texas Legislators to prevent his nomination. I commit to continue to organize, door-knock and remind Texans of our rightful duty to vote.”
As part of the agreement, the Secretary of State will inform all counties to take no further action on any data files sent to them earlier this year, and advise the counties to notify registered voters who received a notice of examination that they are still registered to vote and that their voter registration status is no longer in question. Texas counties have started notifying voters.
The settlement includes the following changes to the Secretary of State’s procedures for identifying voters for investigation of U.S. citizenship:
- Under the new procedure, the Secretary will identify only currently registered voters who registered to vote before they presented documents to DPS indicating non-U.S. citizenship (e.g., a green card). The Secretary will send only those names to the counties for further investigation of citizenship.
- The Texas Secretary of State will provide all counties a new election advisory and written training material. Among other things, the new advisory and training material will advise all counties to treat the new data as weak matches and that they may not immediately cancel any voter’s registration.
- The Texas Secretary of State will promulgate a new notice of examination letter on its website for counties to use. The updated notice will be available in all languages required under state and federal law and will address concerns raised by the court regarding the existing notice, including: (1) informing voters of the different ways in which they can present proof of U.S. citizenship, including e-mail to the county registrar; (2) providing a new and expanded list of documents voters can use to prove U.S. citizenship; and (3) informing voters they have a right to request a hearing to challenge their cancellation, including when the voters lack documentation of U.S. citizenship.
- Voters whose registration is canceled after being sent a notice of examination but who later prove their U.S. citizenship at the polling place or to their county voter registrar must be reinstated (as opposed to re-registered) immediately.
“The State of Texas once again tried illegally to prevent eligible voters from exercising their fundamental right to vote,” said Margaret Fung, AALDEF executive director. “Attorney General Whitley specifically targeted naturalized Texas citizens and was almost successful in removing mostly Asian American and Latinx citizens from voter rolls across the state. We will continue to protect Asian American voters in Texas from voter suppression laws and will again monitor elections this year to document discrimination faced by Asian American voters.”
MALDEF represents individual naturalized U.S. citizens living in Travis, Smith, Wood, Kerr, Galveston, Hildalgo, Austin, Dallas, Harris and Bexar counties, along with La Union Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), UnidosUS, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project and Mi Familia Vota Educational Fund. AALDEF and AAJC | Advancing Justice represent OCA – Greater Houston. The case was consolidated with two other cases challenging the voter purge. Those cases are also settled by today’s agreement.
“This is a win for our community, especially those who are newly naturalized citizens and limited English proficient individuals,” said Niyati Shah, assistant director of legal advocacy for Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. “If this faulty list had continued to be used by Texas to purge voter rolls or assume voter fraud, it would have kept Asian American citizens from being able to exercise their democratic rights and perpetuated a false narrative of voter fraud. Instead, today we can be confident that we have secured access to the ballot box for our Asian American communities.”
Read the settlement agreement HERE.
Read Texas officials’ admissions that U.S. citizens were included on purge lists HERE.