Pax­ton not pre­pared to in­ves­ti­gate al­leged nonci­t­i­zen voter list

Houston Chronicle - - NEWSMAKERS - By Jeremy Wal­lace

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton now says he is not pre­pared to in­ves­ti­gate the 58,000 po­ten­tial nonci­t­i­zen vot­ers that the sec­re­tary of state has flagged.

In a let­ter to a key state sen­a­tor, Pax­ton said he does not have enough staff to di­vert from other tasks to in­ves­ti­gate each voter. The Texas sec­re­tary of state, David Whit­ley, sent his of­fice the list two weeks ago, when it no­ti­fied coun­ties of a to­tal of 95,000 sus­pected nonci­t­i­zens reg­is­tered to vote, 58,000 of whom have cast a bal­lot in an elec­tion. It is a felony for a nonci­t­i­zen to vote in Texas.

Pax­ton said he will wait to see what county voter reg­is­trars dis­cover as they an­a­lyze the data. Al­ready, county elec­tions of­fi­cials have dis­cov­ered that more than 20,000 vot­ers on the state’s purge list are in fact cit­i­zens and el­i­gi­ble to vote.

“Sim­ply put, even uti­liz­ing ev­ery re­source we have, it would not be pos­si­ble to in­ves­ti­gate tens of thou­sands of SOS mat­ters be­fore the voter reg­is­trars should be able to com­plete their list main­te­nance ac­tiv­ity,” Pax­ton said in a let­ter to Sen. Dawn Buck­ing­ham, R-Lake­way.

Buck­ing­ham is the chair of the Se­nate Nom­i­na­tions Com­mit­tee, which is weigh­ing whether to con­firm Whit­ley as sec­re­tary of state. Gov. Greg Abbott ap­pointed Whit­ley in De­cem­ber, but he

must still be con­firmed by the Texas Se­nate to re­tain the job.

Whit­ley’s con­fir­ma­tion process be­gan Thurs­day when se­na­tors pep­pered him with ques­tions about the list of po­ten­tial nonci­t­i­zen vot­ers his of­fice had sent out and about all the names county of­fi­cials have found were wrongly on the list.

“I will read­ily level with you that we can al­ways im­prove the process,” Whit­ley told the se­na­tors. “But the data is what the data is. And we were con­fi­dent that that was the best data that we could get from DPS.”

On Jan. 25, Whit­ley put out a news re­lease say­ing the 95,000 vot­ers iden­ti­fied by his of­fice had pre­vi­ously sup­plied in­for­ma­tion to the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety that in­di­cated they were not cit­i­zens. At that time, Pax­ton an­nounced he “stood ready” to open a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

While nonci­t­i­zens can legally get a driver’s li­cense, they are in­el­i­gi­ble to vote. Whit­ley’s of­fice at the time said it was for­ward­ing the names of the 58,000 peo­ple on the list who had pre­vi­ously voted to the state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral.

On Thurs­day, se­na­tors asked Whit­ley to call on Pax­ton to hold off on in­ves­ti­gat­ing peo­ple un­til the lists have been bet­ter vet­ted by county of­fi­cials to as­sure le­gal cit­i­zens aren’t be­ing drawn into an in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­nec­es­sar­ily.

In his let­ter to Buck­ing­ham, Pax­ton said the sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice has asked him to re­frain from start­ing those in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

The ef­fort to pin­point vot­ers who are not U.S. cit­i­zens has brought praise from Repub­li­cans as high up as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who have called it part of the fight against voter fraud. But it also has re­sulted in law­suits from civil rights groups who say the anal­y­sis Whit­ley’s of­fice con­ducted is rid­dled with er­rors and dis­crim­i­nates against im­mi­grants. They say the purge is cal­cu­lated to dis­suade them from vot­ing.

Whit­ley’s of­fice has said it can’t com­ment on pend­ing lit­i­ga­tion.

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