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Civil rights group sues Texas over its call to remove alleged noncitizens from voter rolls

Wednesday, January 30, 2019 by Ashley Lopez, KUT

A Latino civil rights organization filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday against Texas’ effort to identify noncitizens who are registered to vote.

The lawsuit brought by the the League of United Latin American Citizens argues that state officials violated the Voting Rights Act when they advised local registrars to remove alleged noncitizens from their voter rolls.

In the filing, the group says Texas Secretary of State David Whitley and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have combined efforts to “intimidate people who are currently legitimately registered to vote into de-registering or just not voting (or both) in the upcoming May 2019 election.”

Domingo Garcia, the president of LULAC, told KUT his group wants to block local officials from removing the voters from rolls and wants the state to clarify how it compiled the list of 95,000 voters.

“We are going to be able to show that at the end that all of these were legitimate U.S. voters,” Garcia said. “In the end this is really about voter suppression, not voter fraud.”

In an advisory sent out Friday, Whitley told local voter registrars the Texas Department of Public Safety had found as many as 95,000 people who identified as non-U.S. citizens when they obtained a state ID within the last 22 years. In that same time period, those individuals also registered to vote, state officials argue.

In a statement, Whitley said his office is checking to see if those individuals voted while they were noncitizens. He said it’s part of his commitment to use “all available tools under the law to maintain an accurate list of registered voters.”

Voting rights groups say the list is misleading and the motivations behind it are political.

“What the secretary of state is doing – and knowingly doing – is taking a list of people who have recently become U.S. citizens and registered to vote whom the secretary of state knows got their driver’s licenses or state IDs while they were still permanent resident immigrants,” said Nina Perales with MALDEF, a Latino legal defense group.

Attorneys for various civil rights groups in the state issued a letter to the secretary of state’s office demanding that he rescind the advisory sent out last week and threatening possible legal action.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio. Florida and Colorado have also attempted to remove alleged noncitizens from voter rolls; officials in both states were sued over their efforts.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Salvador Castro for KUT.

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