AUSTIN, Texas — Texas officials are contacting county election authorities statewide to determine whether people who are not U.S. citizens are registering and illegally voting.
The announcement was decried by voting rights advocate as a thinly veiled effort to purge the registration rolls and to discourage participation at the ballot box.
Texas Secretary of State Whitley, the state’s top elections official, said his office has been working with the Texas Department of Public Safety seeking to determine whether non-citizens are participating in Texas elections. He was appointed in December by Gov. Greg Abbott.
“Through this evaluation, the Texas Secretary of State’s office discovered that a total of approximately 95,000 individuals identified by DPS as non-U.S. citizens have a matching voter registration record in Texas, approximately 58,000 of whom have voted in one or more Texas elections,” Whitley said in a Friday news release.
The information has been turned over to the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Voting illegally is a second-degree felony punishable by as long as 20 years in prison.
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Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, called Whitely’s move “alarming.”
“There is no credible data that indicates illegal voting is happening in any significant numbers, and the secretary’s statement does not change that fact,” Stevens said.
“Notably, Texas has one of the largest numbers of naturalizations in the United States, with about 50,000 Texas residents becoming naturalized citizens each year,” she added. “Whether updates to the legal status of the persons on the Secretary’s list has been taken into account is unclear and, based on the number of naturalizations in Texas every month, highly suspect.”
The Secretary of State’s Office will examine voter registration data statewide in an effort to accurately determine the citizenship status of people identified as non-citizens. People suspected of not being citizens who are found can then be contacted by local elections officials and asked to produce a birth certificate or passport to clear up any citizenship questions.
“Integrity and efficiency of elections in Texas require accuracy of our state’s voter rolls, and my office is committed to using all available tools under the law to maintain an accurate list of registered voters,” Whitley said.