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House Speaker Pelosi says attempted voter purge in Texas shows need for stronger federal protections

Wednesday, March 6, 2019 by Ashley Lopez, KUT

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a visit to East Austin on Tuesday to promote sweeping voting reform legislation currently before Congress.

Among other things, House Bill 1 would ensure online voter registration or automatic registration for citizens across the country. The bill would require paper trails for electronic voting machines and prohibit states from removing voters from their rolls in a process known as voter purges.

The issue of voter purges was front and center during her visit. At an event with U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, Pelosi highlighted the case of Julieta Garibay, an Austin resident who is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging Texas’ effort to remove alleged non-citizens from voter rolls.

“Texas points out how vitally important this is and is the evidence of the need for this legislation,” Pelosi said.

Garibay was one of more than 90,000 people on Texas’ voter rolls whom Texas Secretary of State David Whitley flagged as potential non-citizens. In January, Whitley sent lists of those voters to local election officials and asked them to begin the process of removing ineligible voters from the rolls.

But officials across the state quickly found that the list contained the names of thousands of eligible voters, most of them recently naturalized citizens.

At the event Tuesday, Garibay accused state officials – including Whitley, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton – of suppressing her vote.

“Whitley, Paxton and Abbott sounded a false alarm of voter fraud with the sole purpose of not only trampling over my rights as a U.S. citizen, but of intimidating foreign-born naturalized citizens,” she said.

A federal judge recently ordered state and local officials to temporarily stop these voter-removal efforts. U.S. District Court Judge Fred Biery in San Antonio accused Whitley of creating a “mess.” In his ruling, he also called the state’s endeavor a “solution looking for a problem.”

“The very actions of the secretary of state point out the brazenness of what some will do to suppress the vote,” Pelosi said.

Doggett pointed to a slew of other voting laws in Texas that he said suppress the vote. He said this list includes “the worst and most stringent voter ID law” in the country, as well as partisan gerrymandering in the state.

“As you know, Austin is the largest city anyplace in America that does not have a majority of its citizens within one congressional district,” Doggett said.

If passed, HB 1 would address that issue. One provision in the bill would take away the power of state legislatures to draw congressional districts and task independent commissions with that work instead.

The legislation faces an uphill battle in the U.S. Senate. In an op-ed for The Washington Post earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the bill “a power grab” and vowed not to let senators vote on it.

Despite this, Pelosi said she was pressing on.

“I don’t think that we should be deterred by what somebody might think will happen in the Senate,” she said. “You never know.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT.

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