U.S. District Judge Fred Biery approved a settlement Monday that the state reached with civil rights groups to halt the effort to purge tens of thousands of suspected non-citizens from the voter rolls. In July 2016, a federal appeals court found that Texas’s voter ID law discriminated against black and Hispanic voters because only a few types of ID were allowed; for example, military IDs and concealed carry permits were allowed, but state employee photo IDs and university photo IDs were not.
The deal signed Friday puts an end to three separate lawsuits filed by civil rights groups that included the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American Civil Rights Union. The suits alleged the state’s program unlawfully targeted immigrants who had become naturalized U.S. citizens. The state will also pay $450,000 to lawyers for the groups for costs and fees.
“It’s not perfect … but we’re pretty happy,” LULAC’s chief legal counsel, Luis Vera, told the judge.
Assistant Attorney General Patrick Sweeten told Biery that the state noted the judge’s previous instructions to try to come up with potential agreement offers, and “we reached an out-of-court” deal.
According to the settlement, Interim Secretary of State David Whitley will rescind his office’s Jan. 25 advisory, which announced the purge to county elections administrators, and advise them to take no further action on any data files that the office sent them in connection with that advisory.
Whitley’s office will also tell elections administrators that any voter who received a notice that their voter registration status was in question shall be sent a new written notice that they are still registered to vote and that their voter registration status is no longer in question.
“This comes just in time…so those affected will be able to participate in this weekend’s elections without impediment,” said Nina Perales, MALDEF’s vice president of litigation.
Whitley’s office used driver’s license data from the Texas Department of Public Safety and, after comparing it with voter rolls, wrongly concluded that 98,000 Texans who were registered to vote were noncitizens and that about 58,000 had voted in previous elections.
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Some local elections administrators — after receiving the Jan. 25 advisory and a list of suspected noncitizens from Whitley’s office — immediately sent out notices telling voters on the list that they would be removed from the rolls if they didn’t provide proof of citizenship within 30 days. Other administrators investigated the information the state provided and found discrepancies in the data.
At a hearing in February before Biery, a top official in Whitley’s office admitted that the state used flawed information to roll out the initiative and overstated the numbers by tens of thousands of people who were actually naturalized citizens.
The deal was a relief to Julie Hilberg, a naturalized citizen from England and plaintiff . She received a letter from local elections officials in Atascosa County instructing her to provide proof of citizenship.
“I think it’s a great day for voters in Texas, especially naturalized citizens,” said Hilberg, the Democratic Party’s chair in Atascosa County. “We can now rest assured that we’re not going to be purged from the rolls or be discriminated against.”