Voting Rights Groups Push Back On Texas Plan To Purge Thousands From Voter Rolls
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Texas says it's preparing to purge the names of thousands of noncitizens from the state's voter rolls. This past Friday, officials announced they had flagged almost 100,000 people. But voting rights groups say the state's list is misleading, and state officials' motivations are largely political. Ashley Lopez, of member station KUT in Austin, reports.
ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: The state has put together a list of about 95,000 people. These are people who registered as noncitizens when they got their driver's license within the last 22 years but have also registered to vote in that time. In a statement, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley says it's part of his office's commitment to use, quote, "all available tools under the law to maintain an accurate list of registered voters." His office declined an interview request. But Nina Perales with MALDEF, a Latino legal defense group, says this isn't a list of people who voted illegally. It's a list of people who were naturalized.
NINA PERALES: 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.
LOPEZ: And in Texas, that's a lot of people. Perales says every year roughly 50,000 Texans become naturalized citizens. Even though naturalized citizens have the right to vote, state officials and even President Trump say this list is a sign they need to crack down on illegal voting. Grace Chimene, with the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Texas, says they're wrong.
GRACE CHIMENE: They're throwing it out everywhere. And it is very worrisome to us because we are very concerned that they are going to use this as a way to try to suppress the vote in Texas.
LOPEZ: And that's what Nina Perales says she thinks this is all about.
PERALES: The timing of the Texas secretary of state's announcement, falsely claiming that there are tens of thousands of noncitizens on the rolls, we think is directly related to the very high number of Latinos who were registered and were voting in the most recent election.
LOPEZ: In 2018, there was a closely watched Senate race between Republican Ted Cruz and his Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke. O'Rourke lost by 2.6 percentage points making it the closest Senate race in 30 years. Grace Chimene, with the League of Women Voters, says she's worried that focusing on purging the voter rolls will intimidate new citizens from participating in elections altogether.
CHIMENE: We should be celebrating these new citizens and that they're going to vote in Texas.
LOPEZ: Other states, including Florida and Colorado, have tried similar voter purges aimed at alleged noncitizens. Before the 2012 election, Florida compiled a list of roughly 180,000 names. After local officials combed through it, only 85 people were removed from the rolls. Perales says she thinks Texas officials will also eventually have to back down and admit their list is misleading too.
PERALES: You know, for us, the concern is that the side harms are going to be pretty significant in terms of voter discouragement and possibly purging people off the rolls who should not be purged.
LOPEZ: All of this comes as Texas lawmakers begin their legislative session. One bill under consideration would require people to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote. For NPR News, I'm Ashley Lopez in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.