Tell Us More About How Innocent You Are, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott!
It was just last week that Texas's Secretary of State, David Whitley, had to resign because he couldn't get confirmed by the state Senate. Democrats wouldn't vote to confirm Whitley because he'd led that stupid attempt to purge nearly 100,000 Texans from voter rolls for having illegally registered to vote. Except, OOPS, at least a quarter, probably many more, were actually legitimate votes incorrectly flagged because the methodology was bullshit.
And now, emails obtained through a public records request appear to show that Whitley, who was appointed to the post by Gov. Greg Abbott in December 2018, wasn't even the originator of the failed purge. Instead, two officials at the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) identified Abbott's office as pushing for the project months before Whitley was appointed. Abbott's office denies it, which is hardly surprising since Abbott has already tried to pin the failed voter purge on the DPS providing bad data to the Secretary of State's office.
Funny how stories of vote suppression fuckery just keep getting uglier and uglier, isn't it?
The whole scheme to find scary noncitizen voters relied on dubious data from the get-go: The Secretary of State's office compared voter rolls to drivers license and ID card applications that had been filed with DPS by legal permanent residents (there's a citizenship box to check off). Problem is, DPS kept no records of whether people were later naturalized, so the list of "95,000 potential illegal voters" actually contained tens of thousands of perfectly legal US citizens. After three federal lawsuits and incredibly bad publicity, the state eventually gave up on pursuing the program, and agreed to pay $450,000 in attorneys' fees to the plaintiffs in the three suits.
The emails, posted online by the Campaign Legal Center (one of several groups that sued over the program), show that the DPS was actually coordinating how to get data to the Secretary of State's office as early as March 2018. Requests from Abbott's office were mentioned in two emails on August 27, 2018:
John Crawford, a top official of the driver license division at the Texas Department of Public Safety, told employees that DPS had previously turned over records to compare with state voter rolls, and "we have an urgent request from the governor's office to do it again."
That same day, the director of the driver license division, Amanda Arriaga, wrote in a separate email that "the Governor is interested in getting this information as soon as possible."
Because Yr Wonkette is servicey, we have grabbed screenshots of the two emails for you!
We also looked through the rest of the emails, and many of them are about the problem that ultimately made the entire project crash and burn: the fact that all the DPS has is information on people's citizenship status the day they applied for a license or ID. Lots of conversation about what the SoS's office would need to do to make sure it wasn't going after people who were subsequently naturalized.
Abbott's office was understandably ashamed of the whole thing, weren't they? Hahaha, these are Texas Republicans we're talking about! The emails mean nothing, NOTHING, you hear, according to Abbott spokesperson John Wittman:
"This is patently false. Neither the governor, nor the governor's office gave a directive to initiate this process. No one speaks for the governor's office, but the governor's office," Wittman told CNN in a statement.
"Not one of the emails came from anyone in the governor's office," Wittman added. "No one from the governor's office was cc'ed on the emails."
Wittman said the first time the governor met with Steve McCraw, the head of DPS, about the voter data error was March 2019.
That's a pretty good non-denial denial! Notice that careful phrasing: No "directive" and Abbott never "met with" the DPS chief until this year. The suggestion that Abbott or his office couldn't possibly have been involved because they weren't cc'd on internal DPS emails is an especially nice touch. So apparently the Texas Department of Public Safety just magically started all this information-gathering for a voter purge in 2018, and for good measure made up the stuff about Abbott's office asking for it. All months before Whitley was even appointed by Abbott, because that's how folks at DPS like to spend their time.
Luis Vera, the general counsel the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), one of the groups that sued over the voter purge, told ThinkProgress the emails suggest Whitley had "nothing to do with the program," and only took over a process that was underway before he was appointed:
This was Gov. Abbott's program. He started it with [Attorney General] Ken Paxton, and he did this thinking they were going to pull off a stunt and they got caught with their pants down[.]
Once Whitley rolled out the list in January of this year, Paxton eagerly embraced its dubious claims that tens of thousands of people had maybe voted "illegally" since 1996 (it's now clear that's almost certainly a tally of votes by naturalized citizens). Despite the state dropping the purge because the list was full of legal voters, Paxton's tweet vowing swift vengeance is still up:
VOTER FRAUD ALERT: The @TXsecofstate discovered approx 95,000 individuals identified by DPS as non-U.S. citizens ha… https://t.co/GSBiYcSaFP— Attorney General Ken Paxton (@Attorney General Ken Paxton) 1548448630.0
What's more, even though the state legislature quickly turned to other fine voter suppression schemes, the Texas Tribunereports Paxton's office says the investigation into possible "voter fraud" it opened in January is still at least technically an ongoing matter. There may not be any prosecutions, but saying the investigation is still open is a handy legal excuse to block media efforts to get the list of names through public records requests. Can't have the press doing its own check against the voter rolls and finding out just how many naturalized citizens were targeted, after all.
Update: Just in case anyone feels bad about Whitley taking the fall for this, don't worry about him being thrown under any buses. Almost immediately after Whitley resigned, Abbott hired him to work in the governor's office, at a salary of $205,000 a year. He will somehow get by.
[Houston Chronicle / Campaign Legal Center / CNN / ThinkProgress / Texas Tribune / Greg Abbott image by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons license 2.0]
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