Texas Brown People Registered To Vote Again
Looks like the Republican leaders of the Great State of Texas have finally decided how to respond to the high 2018 turnout that wasn't quite enough to elect Beto O'Rourke to the US Senate but did manage to flip a couple seats blue in Congress, add a dozen Democrats in the state House, and replace Republicans with Democrats in an astonishing number of state appellate court seats. Obviously, something has to be done, so how about a good old-fashioned "voter fraud" scare? Friday, Secretary of State David Whitley's office said it had complied a list of 95,000 possible non-citizens registered to vote -- and issued the scary claim that 58,000 people on the list had voted in at least one Texas election since 1996. Whitley was just appointed to his post in December after serving as Gov. Greg Abbott's chief of staff. Fun coincidence, huh?
Of course, it was pretty obvious from the get-go that the list, based on data from driver's license and ID applications, wasn't proof of any voter fraud. But the scary raw numbers were immediately taken as Gospel truth -- or at least GOPspel truth -- by the people who just know in their hearts that scary foreigns are voting fraudulently, so we need to make voting much more difficult to preserve the "integrity of the ballot" (translation: too many potential Democratic voters) .
So let's get right to why this list -- which was sent to voting officials in every Texas county -- is just plain bogus. It was complied from records from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), which requires applicants for a Texas driver's license or a photo ID to check a box if they're a noncitizen, but a legal resident of the USA. The secretary of state's office then compared the DOT data with voter rolls and decided that anyone whose name was on both lists was possibly an illegal voter, so the counties better go check up on them.
BIG problem with that method, obviously, because it's only a list of registered voters who were not citizens at the time they went to the driver's license office -- so even if they became citizens later and registered to vote, the DPS data wouldn't reflect that. Lawyers for 13 civil rights groups have already sent letters to the state and the county warning not to strike anyone from the voter rolls on the basis of the list:
"Using such a data set to review the current citizenship status of anyone is inherently flawed because it fails to account for individuals who became naturalized citizens and registered to vote at any point after having obtained their driver license or personal identification card," the lawyers wrote.
Voting rights lawyers also told the Texas Tribune that Texas law doesn't require anyone to update their citizenship status with the DPS once they've become naturalized. It's pretty likely that what Whitley's office sent to counties is really a list that's mostly naturalized citizens.
Not that Whitley's office pointed that out. It did at least note the names "should be considered 'WEAK' matches, using all capital letters for emphasis, but that counties just might want to investigate further. The notice said counties could send letters to the voters on the list to request they provide proof of citizenship. If the voter doesn't reply within 30 days, then it would be legal to remove them from the voter rolls.
It's yet another variation on the "purge by postcard" strategy Georgia and other red states use to get rid of voters who may well be eligible, but who simply don't return what looks like junk mail. Add to that the completely reasonable fears that many people have about Donald Trump's Deport Everyone (including some citizens) policy, and you can imagine plenty of legal voters might think twice before answering a letter demanding their papers.
Not surprisingly, several of the civil rights groups are considering legal action, particularly since this shitty strategy always generates scary big numbers, but identifies very few actual illegitimate voters.
In their letter, the groups point to efforts in Florida that used similar methodology to create a list of approximately 180,000 registered voters that officials claimed were noncitizens based on records used when they obtained driver's licenses. That fight ended up in federal court after more than 2,600 were mistakenly removed from the rolls after being classified as noncitizens. About 85 voters "ultimately proved actionable," the lawyers wrote.
Seems pretty likely that between 1996 and now, a fairly large number of folks who had green cards when they started driving have become citizens, and are voting. The Tribune points out Texas has a LOT of people getting naturalized in any given year:
More than 30,000 immigrants in Texas were approved to become naturalized citizens in the first half of 2018. More than 52,000 were approved in 2017.
In a separate letter sent Monday, lawyers for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund warned counties that purging voter rolls on the basis of the state's list could violate the Constitution and federal voting laws if county officials challenged voters' eligibility "simply because they were not U.S. citizens in the past."
Despite the dubious nature of the data, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Friday the scary scary list (he called it proof of fraud, which it was no such thing) was cause for an immediate investigation, because alarm and panic is what it's all about.
Every single instance of illegal voting threatens democracy in our state and deprives individual Texans of their voice [...] Nothing is more vital to preserving our Constitution than the integrity of our voting process, and my office will do everything within its abilities to solidify trust in every election in the state of Texas.
President Stephen Miller also decried the announcement through his spokesman, Donald Trump:
Fortunately, so far, Texas county officials aren't jumping to send out letters that might lead to a purge of the voter rolls. The Texas Tribune contacted officials in several of the state's largest counties, and only one, Galveston County, had sent out requests for proof of citizenship. Officials in other counties are being cautious, in part because state officials have fucked up lists of supposedly invalid voters in the past, resulting in federal lawsuits. Douglas Ray, an attorney with Harris County, said county officials didn't want to rush into action without better information:
"To be quite frank, several years ago the secretary of state did something very similar claiming there were people who were deceased," Ray said. "They sent us a list and the voter registrar sent confirmation notices and it turned out a lot of people identified on the list were misidentified. A lot of the people who received notices were very much alive."
Gee, but just think of how much publicity that initial press release about all those dead voters got. Surely that was worth it for the state's efforts to fight "voter fraud," huh?
IIn the New York Times, Sam Taylor, a spokesperson for the secretary of state's office, said the data was really really good at identifying the potential miscreants, because the information is matched up right down to dates of birth and Social Security number and stuff:
"We can't see a situation in which this would produce a false positive," he said. "These are people whose last and most recent visits to D.P.S. showed them to be noncitizens through documentation that they submitted and which D.P.S. has kept on file."
So yes, you have the most current information -- but looky how he doesn't say how current it is? Texas driver's licenses for people between the ages of 18 and 84 are valid for 6 years, for instance. (Update: A couple of our Texas-based commenters note that you can also do one renewal online/by mail before having to go into an office in person. "Most recent visits," indeed.)
Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, says Texas is just gearing up to suppress votes again, and their data is cacadoody:
In our experience, state databases are often riddled with errors, are not up-to-date and don't reflect the most recent information with regard to individuals.
As an example of how accurate and up-to-date those DPS records are, the Huffington Post reports that the day the state sent its list of suspect voters out, the top voting official for El Paso County, Lisa Wise, immediately spotted an error. One of the supposed noncitizens on the list works in Wise's office, and had recently been naturalized and proudly registered to vote. But since the woman wasn't a citizen when she got her state ID a few years ago, the state had flagged her as a probable vote frauder.
Thank goodness the state is going after tens of thousands of people like her, huh?
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.