AUSTIN, Texas ― The League of United Latin American Citizens filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday seeking to bar the state of Texas from moving forward with probe that would question the citizenship of nearly 100,000 of the state’s registered voters.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Antonio, alleges that Texas Secretary of State David Whitley and Attorney General Ken Paxton are violating the Voting Rights Act by attempting to intimidate voters from exercising their suffrage rights. The complaint asks the court to invalidate the probe and bar the two officials from attempting to move forward with it.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
“It shows how much racism and discrimination exists here in Texas,” LULAC’s attorney Luis Vera Jr., told HuffPost. “They didn’t verify anything ― they didn’t even try.”
“We look forward to appearing in court to defend Texas’ right to limit the state’s voting registration rolls to those actually eligible to vote,” Marc Rylander, communications director for the Texas Attorney General’s office, said in a statement.
On Friday, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley announced that it had identified some 95,000 registered voters as potential non-citizens, including about 58,000 who had cast a ballot over the last decade. The office then began disbursing the list to county registrars, who will ultimately decide whether to issue letters to those voters that would give them 30 days to prove their citizenship or have their registrations revoked.
Paxton trumpeted Friday’s news on Twitter, prefaced with the words “VOTER FRAUD ALERT,” in all caps. President Donald Trump gave the allegations further attention Sunday.
VOTER FRAUD ALERT: The @TXsecofstate discovered approx 95,000 individuals identified by DPS as non-U.S. citizens have a matching voter registration record in TX, approx 58,000 of whom have voted in TX elections. Any illegal vote deprives Americans of their voice.
— Ken Paxton (@KenPaxtonTX) January 25, 2019
But legal and advocacy groups protested the allegations, which derived primarily from crosschecks with records maintained by the state’s Department of Public Safety, which issues driver’s licenses and identification cards. Applicants have to show proof of citizenship when they apply for such documents, but don’t need to check in again if they naturalize later as U.S. citizens. Critics contend the list is almost certainly loaded with false positives, most of whom were legal permanent residents when they first started driving, but later became citizens.
“They’re picking on the weakest voters — the newly naturalized citizens who are proud to go cast a ballot,” LULAC national president Domingo García said. “Now they’re going to get a letter questioning their citizenship and their right to vote. That’s pure intimidation and borderline evil and cruel.”
The LULAC lawsuit described Whitley and Paxton’s Friday news dump as a “carefully crafted and orchestrated program” to spread inaccurate information that allowed them to “publicly state whatever they wished without fear of contradiction on any specifics.” Those tactics will lead legitimate voters to fear casting a ballot and force them to take additional steps to guarantee their right to vote, Vera said.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, another major legal group that has criticized the Texas voter probe, issued a letter Monday saying that county registrars who moved forward with the Secretary of State’s voter probe ran the risk of lawsuits.
Officials in other states have cast scrutiny in the past on registered voters using similar methodology, most notably in Florida. The overwhelming majority of the voters flagged in that state’s probe were ultimately found to be legitimate.
García likened the Texas voter probe to other voter restrictions that have plagued Texas over its history, including Jim Crow laws, the poll tax and gerrymandering.
Texas will hold its next election in May, for municipal offices and school boards. To cast a ballot, voters need to secure a valid registration by April 4.
“They’re just rigging the system to stay in power and disenfranchise minorities,” García said of the state’s Republican leadership. “It’s all based on lies, which we intend to prove in a court of law.”
This has been updated with a statement from the Texas Attorney General’s office.