Civil Rights Groups Sue Texas Over Voter Purge Program
AUSTIN, Texas — Civil rights organizations filed a complaint in federal court Tuesday against the Texas Secretary of State’s office for failing to turn over documents related to a voter registration list maintenance program mandated by the state’s new election law.
Texas’s new election law, instituted despite legal challenges presented to prevent its procedures from taking effect, requires the secretary of state to perform monthly voter roll audits by cross-referencing data from the Texas Department of Public Safety to verify citizenship status. By refusing to share the requested data, the coalition of civil rights organizations contend they are unable to verify whether the state is conforming to a settlement agreement from 2019.
The 2019 settlement stemmed from then-Secretary of State David Whitley’s wrongful voter purge effort which questioned the citizenship status of nearly 100,000 Texas residents, many of whom were naturalized citizens. Whitley resigned later that year.
Tuesday’s complaint was filed jointly by the Campaign Legal Center, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Texas, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the liberal think tank Demos. In it, the organizations maintain documentation requests submitted in August and October of last year were ignored in violation of the settlement agreement and federal law.
“Public inspection of states’ voter list maintenance activities is necessary to ensure that discriminatory practices such as Texas’s 2019 voter purge program do not cancel registrations of eligible voters,” the plaintiffs wrote in the lawsuit. “Such public inspection is also mandated by the [National Voter Registration Act of 1993.]”
The documentation sought by the plaintiffs included records showing every individual identified under the maintenance process as a potential non-U.S. citizen based on identification information from the Texas DPS. They also requested the information used by the office to determine whether each voter’s citizenship status was questionable.
Secretary of State John B. Scott has yet to produce any of the requested records and his office declined a request for comment from The Well News.
However, Assistant Secretary of State for Communications Sam Taylor told The Well News that the process was laid out in detail in a Sept. 2021 advisory to county voter registrars and the settlement agreement was codified into law by the Texas legislature’s passage of the election overhaul bill.
“The right to vote is what makes this country a free one and naturalized citizens in Texas, and every U.S. state, should not have to worry about being purged from the voting rolls,” Paul Smith, senior vice president at the Campaign Legal Center, said in a written statement. “We all deserve the chance to cast our ballots freely, safely and equally. Sadly, it is clear that the court now needs to step in and protect that freedom by compelling the state to produce the records for this program — thereby making our elections safe, accessible and transparent.”
The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin. Voters who have their registration canceled under the maintenance process can be reinstated by submitting proof of United States citizenship to their local elections office or polling place.
Registration removals are paused at least until after the March 1 primaries because federal law mandates their suspension within 90 days of an election. Individuals in the state who received a cancellation notice prior to the primary will have until then to submit their proof of citizenship.
“The secretary of state’s voter purge program once again surgically targets naturalized U.S. citizens for investigation and removal from the voter rolls,” Nina Perales, MALDEF vice president of litigation, said in a written statement. “Naturalized U.S. citizens have the same right to vote as all other citizens, and this new lawsuit seeks to ensure that Texas treats its voters fairly.”
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