Texas Secretary of State Resigns After Error-Filled Voting Probe

May 28, 2019by Chuck Lindell
Westsiders cast their votes at the polling place inside the Life Guard Headquarters on June 7, 2016 in Venice, Calif. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

AUSTIN, Texas — Shortly before the Texas Senate’s closing gavel ended his term as secretary of state, David Whitley delivered his letter of resignation, “effective immediately,” to Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday afternoon.

Whitley needed Senate confirmation by the end of the session to remain on the job but fell short of the required 21 votes despite expected support from all 19 Republican senators.

All 12 Democrats, however, held firm in their opposition to Whitley over his handling of an error-filled investigation into the citizenship status of registered voters that prompted three federal lawsuits and an eventual court settlement that halted the probe and limited the scope of future investigations.

Abbott, Whitley’s friend and mentor, was unable to dislodge opposition to the nominee in the 3 1/2 months since Whitley’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Nominations Committee.

Whitley thanked Abbott, who nominated him to the job in December, for the opportunity.

“To have your trust,” Whitley wrote in his resignation letter, “goes beyond what I ever dreamed of as a kid growing up in a small South Texas community”

For Democrats, Whitley committed two unforgivable transgressions.

First, there was Whitley’s Jan. 25 announcement than an investigation by his office had identified almost 100,000 potential noncitizens who had registered to vote, including 58,000 who had cast at least one ballot since 1996.

Second, Whitley referred the list of names to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for possible prosecution of election law violations.

It soon became apparent, however, that many of the suspect registered voters were naturalized U.S. citizens who were eligible to vote, and Whitley later acknowledged that his office was aware that naturalized citizens could have been included in the list.

Democrats and civil rights leaders accused Whitley of trying to intimidate naturalized voters or purge them from the voting rolls.

“There seems to have been a lack of due diligence,” Democratic state Sen. Carol Alvarado of Houston, said during Whitley’s confirmation hearing in February. “The conclusion that I draw is either you or someone in your administration didn’t check your work product, or (you) intentionally allowed information that was inaccurate to go out.”

The three lawsuits from civil rights groups and naturalized voters followed.

Faced with evidence of a flawed list, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery issued an order in late February blocking Texas counties from sending letters to those identified as potential noncitizen voters that demanded proof of citizenship within 30 days.

In late April, lawyers for Texas settled the lawsuits. Under the agreement, Whitley rescinded his Jan. 25 advisory on potential voting irregularities, adopted a limited process to investigate the citizenship of voters in the future and agreed to pay $450,000 to the plaintiffs to cover legal costs and fees.

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©2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

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