Inaccurate Texas voter list challenged in federal court

LULAC: State targets naturalized citizens, legal residents

SAN ANTONIO – The recent uproar over an inaccurate list of more than 90,000 Texas voters landed in federal court Tuesday.

The League of United Latin American Citizens, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization, is seeking a temporary injunction to stop the process of how Texas reviews voter citizenship.

The Texas secretary of state had compared voter registration lists with those of noncitizens who got driver’s licenses or state IDs from the Texas Department of Public Safety, and then notified local elections officials.

It was later found, however, that thousands on that list compiled by the secretary of state had later become U.S. citizens.

Luis Vera, LULAC national general counsel, said that, before sending out erroneous information, the state should have first checked a federal database that has the legal status of all nonnative U.S. residents.

“Get it right, and once you get it right, then you can do it the right way,” Vera said.

David Whitley, whose confirmation as secretary of state is still pending, later apologized, in a letter to members of the Legislature, for his handling of the process.

“To the extent my actions missed the mark, I apologize,” Whitley wrote. “More time should have been devoted to additional communication with the counties and DPS to further eliminate anyone from the original list who is, in fact, eligible to vote.”

He also said the announcement should have been “communicated better.”

Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said that, since Texas law doesn’t allow counties to verify citizenship when a person registers to vote, “The whole purpose of this current process has been to give the counties information to verify a voter’s citizenship status after he or she registers.”

On Tuesday, several county elections officials indicated they had taken the secretary of state’s advisory as the final word and did not verify the accuracy of the list they were sent.

Taylor said that, in fact, local registrars are not mandated to verify anyone’s legal status, and it’s an option.

The Secretary of State’s Office plans to continue its review of voter lists on a monthly basis.

“The monthly files we plan to send to counties going forward will only include individuals who are currently registered to vote and who have confirmed they are noncitizens to DPS within the past month,” Taylor said.

However, Taylor pointed out that noncitizens cannot register to vote.  

Testimony continues in federal court Wednesday.  

About the Author:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.